Yesterday, Chris at A Blog About School asked: Why not let high school students vote in local school board elections?
This is a topic we discussed last summer in the comment section of this post. I followed up with this post discussing the need to balance children’s current interests with their future interests when making educational decisions for them.
I admit that my first reaction to Chris’s proposal was concern that high school students may lack the experience and perspective to adequately protect their future interests. But this concern is not significantly different at eighteen than at sixteen or seventeen. In any case, there is a danger that decision-makers of any age will over value any particular current or future interest at the expense of other current or future interests.
I have listened to school board members disregard parental concerns about fifteen minute lunches, cafeterias with inadequate space to serve all students (most students don’t want to eat cafeteria lunch anyway), and crowded hallways. I have listened to a teacher disregard concerns about 10:30 am lunch service (they should just pack a snack for later, I would). I have listened to adults arguing about how large a high school is too large and how small a high school is too small. I have listened to parents and teachers argue about PBIS.
In all this, I can’t help thinking that the voice of the children’s current interest in being treated humanely and respectfully at school is being ignored. We can guess how we would feel about these issues–a few more AP course offerings and athletic teams that routinely compete for state championships may or may not be worth crowded hallways and early lunch service–but we don’t have to navigate those hallways multiple times per day and eat a mid-morning lunch. So we probably need to hear more from the students themselves, who attend these schools, about these and other issues.
I think Chris is right that there is no substitute for enfranchisement. Short of that, we need to be more mindful of the pitfalls of making decisions in the best interests of disenfranchised people.