Since I began teaching in 1990, I have repeatedly heard the term “reform” with regards to our educational system. And as someone who has always believed in and practiced teaching that worked to be real world, relevant and student-oriented, I can still get excited about the “possibilities” of real change. However, even with all of the classrooms, schools and some systems that have embraced new standards, new technology, project-based approaches, democratization/student voice and more, it’s almost appalling how little has changed in many of our nation’s high school classrooms. They are still dominated by outdated pedagogies, resources, activities and learning environments. Many still live and die by the lecture, low level note taking, and low level quizzes and assessments, as well as teacher/administrator mindsets not in line with anything related to 21st century workplaces or careers.
This lack of overall progress has lead me to be more anxious, adamant and even angry about the need and demand for real significant and systemic change for our high school students. This has forced me to analyze more closely how real change occurs. And without citing every step forward historically, it does seem that no real social, cultural, economic or pedagogical change take place in our societies until the people that are affected the most ban together and demand it. So I am now convinced, more than ever, that high school will not make the global changes necessary until high school students themselves literally rise up and intelligently articulate for something much better.
So it seems that a 21st century education has to become a student rights issue. I have written about this before (see Edu Change & Advocacy blog post here). And when I had the great fortune on opening a new, 21st century high school in 2008, we began there with our schools Student Bill of Rights (Minarets High School Student Bill of Rights). But now I think it’s time for us to adopt a 21st Century High School Bill of Rights for all. Maybe if we publish the document, we can work to get students armed with the right information to know what questions to ask, what requests to make and what rights they probably have. Indeed, I hope to challenge legislators, educators, policy makers, change agents and students to work towards an agreed upon and approved 21st Century High School Bill of Rights (see proposed document below).
Additionally, I would also like to launch several challenges:
- What if elected officials moved beyond adopting standards and actually passed legislation with elements of a 21st century education being law and non-negotiable? I don’t care at which level these things are passed, but we might need to make 21st century learning environments law and the outdated practices outlaw.
- What if educational leaders/practitioners/advocates organized and partnered with business leaders, concerned citizens and others to truly inform students of what they deserve and should have? We already have many of these groups and organizations in place, but they need to get to the students and empower them to demand change.
- What if elected student body officers and leaders began to work on real educational and learning change? Fighting for a better homecoming, rally or dress code can be fun, but your duty could be to truly transform your peers lives by changing what happens on a daily basis in their classrooms.
This is a call to action. Our role as educators will be to empower students so they can articulate the 21st century education they need and deserve.