I went to a concert yesterday in a church sanctuary. The concert was unrelated to the business of the church, but the materials (bibles, hymnals, etc.) remain in place no matter what is happening in the space (services or otherwise). A stack of cards in a box on the back of each pew read “Welcome. This card may help you communicate a need or provide information.”
I had this thought: What if we gave cards like these to children in school? What if young people had an ongoing opportunity to communicate, on paper? When I read the card, I got the impression that my experience mattered, that I was being invited to participate.
I thought about the young people I know and wondered what each of them might write on such a card. The first person who came to mind is in sixth grade. He might write “Most of the time I’m confused when we’re doing math.” Another would likely say something like “I’m really interested in invasive species; can we learn more about that?” Two high school students I know might say “Is there any way you could punch holes in our handouts before you give them to us, or keep a hole punch in the room so we could punch them ourselves? That would help me keep my binder from getting so messy.” Another might say “I’m really not trying to be a brat, but I’m bored, and it’s so frustrating when we spend so much time going over the homework that is exactly what we just did in class the day before.” Given the chance, I think they’d tell us all sorts of things that would be helpful to know. Things that would help us understand their behavior, things that would help us provide the best possible support for them, things that would help us know them better.
My guess is that there are some teachers and schools who have something like this in place, some way for students to communicate with teachers and administrators that does not require trying to get an adult’s attention verbally, or reveal his or her need or information to all those within earshot. But in general, I think we expect that young people will speak up if there’s something they need to say, and I think mostly they don’t.
Some might abuse an “opportunity to communicate a need or provide information” in an anonymous fashion, as one quick look at the internet will tell us. It might be worth the sifting and sorting it would take to manage that, though, if it would make it possible for us to hear more from young people who are sitting quietly not communicating with us, and, too, many of the ones who aren’t sitting quietly but aren’t going to say theirs out loud either.
Even if none of them wrote anything down, I think they’d get that message that I got when I read the card sitting there in the pew of a church I don’t even attend – that if I was there, I was invited to communicate and thus to participate.