Student Self-Governance: A Country Way Too Far Behind

Respect, democracy, and self-governance. These principles were instrumental to the founding of our nation. These qualities -- qualities so fundamental to who we are as a country, have guided us through our long, and rocky history. From our Declaration of Independence to the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to Pearl Harbor to 9/11. We as a people have continued to demand respect, facilitate democracy, and govern ourselves. We have done these things and followed these principles for 241 years. The question I’m trying to answer, however, is whether or not the principles of respect democracy and self-governance should apply to every aspect of our nation, every government agency, and every federally funded organization? One would automatically assume that the answer would be yes. This simply is not the case.

People could sit around debating about whether or not government agencies at the very least, are living up to these principles. I, however, just want to focus on a place I think respect, democracy, and self-governance should be encouraged: schools across the United States. Our education system’s resistance to or plain ignorance when it comes to student self-governance is hurting students, especially the ones in our urban cities.

I’ve had first hand experience with resistance from my own district’s leadership, from the School District of Philadelphia, its School Reform Commission, from even my own high school. Now, I fear many of our nation’s school districts are ignorant of the need for true student self-governance. I came to the School Reform Commission with and idea for a coalition of student government presidents. This coalition would have been the result of a rule requiring all public schools in the city of Philadelphia to have student governments. Philadelphia’s SRC was and continues to be ignorant of the issue that is a lack of of real student representation and power. After being the subject was brought up to them, they simply began to resist. Much like the leadership of Philadelphia’s public school system, I fear that if an issue like this were to be brought up anywhere else, a student or group of them would eventually get the same resistance. Urban students, primarily minorities, are missing out on chances to build an interest in politics or to learn about the qualities it takes to be a leader in general.

But why? What is it about student self-governance that scares my district’s administration (and quite possibly that of other urban school districts)? What is it about true, determined student leaders that can turn a provider of American education funded by our federal government and a progressive high school into hypocritical catastrophes that will immediately abandon their values? I’d say fear. Fear of it not working out? No. Fear of what too much student involvement may do? Maybe. Fear of students telling them what they need to be doing. I also think that one of the most American things you can do is to teach students early on to be involved in making change wherever they are and to speak out when it comes to addressing issue they face. There’s no better way to do that then by establishing student governments in schools everywhere, a task that will fully give students the respect, democracy, and self-governance they both crave and deserve.

Kwan Hopkins