A prevalent view of education is that young people are empty vessels and schools simply open up their heads and pour in knowledge. Unfortunately this is a vision of education that is not serving us well in the 21st century. For a few students, this clearly works, but for many, this is a futile effort — made worse by an increasing focus on testing a few subjects at the expense of high-interest subjects like art and music.
By looking at students as objects to be changed, we lose many opportunities for students to be agents of change. Our society needs change agents — people who care about others, citizens, voters, creative imaginers and leaders. Where will they come from if we don’t allow young people to explore these roles?
Bullying prevention is an opportunity to engage youth in becoming change agents for an important cause, one that impacts them directly. However, lecturing them about rules or organizing pep rallies for kindness misses the mark.
To truly engage youth in bullying prevention, we must take the risk of turning some of the power over to them and allow them to be part of the solution. For example, some students can create their own presentations about bullying or participate in peer mediation. Students listen to other students much more about these subjects than adults, and identify information from peers as more truthful. Involving youth in solutions where they DO something important allows adults to steer youth towards the right answers and good behavior, instead of just lecturing. As adults and youth work together, learning and teaching merge, and youth find new empathy for others.
This kind of engagement requires long-term commitments and caring adults with talent in youth development. However, it pays off when youth develop real skills, compassion, and responsibility.
Next week I’ll be in Seattle presenting as part of a day-long pre-conference panel on Youth Risk Online: Issues and Solutions at the International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA) November 15-17 in Seattle, Washington. I was asked to contribute 300 words to a handout for the participants and thought I’d share them here too!