Skip to content
Photo by Sheila Fitzgerald |

Raise your hand to speak

The voices of all students must be encouraged, welcomed, and valued as adults think about and plan a future for our next generation.

I was in my 20s, leading a focus group for an organization trying to find solutions to Kansas City’s truancy problem. Though I’d grown up in a high school where knives, blackjacks and guns were commonplace for protection, nothing could prepare me for what I heard from one of the participants that day.

“I’m going to be dead by the time I’m 29,” the young man said. “Who cares?”

That was the first time I’d heard the phrase, “dead by 29,” in my life – and, sadly, it wasn’t the last time.

He was a kid. And based on statistics, he very likely didn’t make it past age 29.

Out of turn

One of the first things a child learns in school is to raise his or her hand to speak.

Yet, since the tragic school shooting in Parkland, students there and across the nation, from all walks of life, haven’t raised their hands and waited patiently to speak.

Students are passionate and want to see change – not just in Parkland, but in rural, suburban and urban schools across the country, in places where violence is endured as routine, to those places where violence wakes people from the illusion of safety.

We need kids to speak out, and more importantly, we need to listen.

If education is to meet the demands of an ever-complicated future, we must encourage students to use their agency to try, fail and follow their passions. For students to build, design and co-exist in the communities of their future, they must live in that often-uncomfortable space of dialogue.

The problem is, the opportunity to raise your hand – not only to be called on, but to be heard and valued – is often a privilege.

I think about my second-grade daughter. When she learned about Parkland, she said, “Well, at least they made it to high school. A lot of kids don’t.”

If she had made that comment at her school, chances are her teacher would have seen it as, at worst, precocious. Yet, when some students speak “out of turn,” they are seen as disrupters and distractions, who do not respect authority, when playing the same role.

Out of school, the reaction I get to her comment is one of shock and concern. Unfortunately, those same adults have grown less affected by the type of comment heard in my focus group two decades ago.

This reveals our failures as adults who have been fortunate to never experience violence and are only starting to grip the experience of our children as they recount code red drills. It also reveals the failures of adults not to recognize all voices.

As adults think about and plan a future for this next generation – student voices are forcing a change – we can and must come together in the middle to support all our kids.

Listen and learn

This weekend’s marches will rightfully get the attention of the media, stir debate and raise consciousness. However, it’s not the only issue where all student voices must be heard. Student insight is a critical component to understanding problems and creating solutions that work – whether that’s designing a next-generation college success program like KC Scholars or thinking about what schools should look like in 10 years to help all students succeed in the real world.

At the Kauffman Foundation, we believe that a critical piece to engaging in systematic challenges is to listen to all voices to understand the problems, work together with communities and implement ideas and concepts that get positive results. It means to seek out and amplify the voice of the underrepresented, and to open up to uncomfortable conversations and opposing opinions, not for contentious debate, but as a way forward.

To change futures, to give everyone an opportunity to be uncommon and succeed, we need to think differently.

And, that means, ensuring that no child wakes up believing that kids are lucky to make it to high school, or past age 29.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.