The United States of America was formed upon many principles that are central to a common and understood American identity. This identity came largely from the minds and convictions of colonial citizens that made their homes in the 13 colonies on the east coast of North America that we are now taught about frequently in the public American school system. These values include republicanism, participation, representation, individualism and freedom.
Many of these values ring true to this day in the larger picture of the political landscape of the United States. However, if we look closely at that landscape, we can pinpoint some grievances similar to those that birthed the American Revolution centuries beforehand.
“No Taxation Without Representation” was a common battle-cry for revolutionaries but related not just to taxes. This was a plea to illustrate the very large lack of representation of the Colonies in British Parliament. Parliament created laws and ordinances for the Colonies with no regard to their opinions on the matter. Colonists could not elect officials to represent them in the British Parliament or otherwise participate in legislation. This was indeed a large component leading into the American Revolution.
Now we are older and wiser in a sense; almost every facet of the United States government is elected by popular vote, even in local and state governments. Public school students are governed by members of their community who are elected to a board as well. The problem here is that students do not have the opportunity to elect these board members unless, of course, they are 18 years old, the voting age. By 18, however, most students are in some stage of their final year of high school, so their vote wouldn’t count for much anyway.
It seems ironic for an institution whose sole purpose is to prepare students for the “real world” to limit representation. Students are to graduate from these institutions with knowledge on matters of civic duty and their rights and roles as voting citizens of a democracy but cannot participate in very much until they are graduated anyway.
Some of the school boards that govern these students have participation plans implemented, but these can be flawed even when they exist. In some instances, a student or group of students are put in the role of representative of their student bodies and are given a seat at the board. This is a very efficient system and allows the board a direct source for a student opinion but is ineffective if the student representative cannot vote, does not accurately represent all students or does not weigh in frequently enough or in an appropriate manner.
School boards are created to serve as a body between the community, which is taxed to provide the service of public education, and the students and staff which participate on both the giving and receiving ends of this service. They handle everything from the rate at which citizens of the school district are taxed to rules and regulations inside of school. These rules include many issues that pop up frequently when talking about school, such as dress code and cafeteria food. They meet in a setting open to the public, including students, but can have executive and closed-door sessions.
The lack of power granted students creates one great American dichotomy. If we are to learn democracy in school, why not have the chance to participate in democracy? Obviously, voting rights shouldn’t be granted to a first-grader, but most high school kids can handle voting powers and should be able to be treated maturely.
One argument against is that some students are unaware and go through the day completely ignorant to the board, so this argument does carry weight but can this not also be said about some voting citizens as well? The students who fill the “ignorance is bliss” role simply make the school environment even more similar to the democracy of the United States.
Another argument is that since students aren’t the primary taxpayers, the responsibility falls not on their shoulders, but the parents. This argument also insinuates that minors cannot handle this responsibility. Parents of students do pay more taxes than students but are not the constituency of the board and cannot represent the opinions of their children in a better way than their children could. Students should be able to have their own responsibilities and work alongside their parents and the board in a working democracy and be able to experience what repercussions come directly from their own votes and decisions.
Fault lies in the laps not of all school districts, boards and students, but all who do not do enough. School boards should work toward including students and finding ways to make sure what is being passed is actually in accordance with the wants of the student body. The student body should stay informed and active, realize what goes on in the school board building and participate in any way possible. Both parties can build toward a sound resolution.