A Report by Aloke Mukerjee in New York City.
(It’s not a daily occurrence that a father gets to write about his son. So when I saw the opportunity I went for it. The following report is based on interviews which took place at various locations.)
Note: Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation describes the demographic cohort following Generation X. As there are no precise dates or when the Millennial generation starts and ends, commentators have used birth dates ranging somewhere from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. Members of this generation are called Echo Boomers, due to the significant increase in birth rates through the 1980s and into 1990s, and because many of them are children of baby boomers. The 20th century trend toward smaller families in developed countries continued, however, so the relative impact of the “baby boom echo” was generally less pronounced than the original boom.Characteristics of the generation vary by region, depending on social and economic conditions. However, it is generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. In most parts of the world its upbringing was marked by an increase in a neoliberal approach to politics and economics. The effects of this environment are disputed. (Wikipedia)
Aaron is 16 going on 17. He is an 11th grader attending school in Saline, MI. His interests include baseball, playing the piano, acting in plays, public speaking and reading. What began as a visit to be part of an NYLC(National Youth Leadership Council) conference in Chevy Chase, MD, outside of Washington DC culminated in answering a clarion call and the founding of STRIVE(STudents RE-investing In Valuable Education).
How did all this start?
I was nominated by an English teacher, accepted and ended up attending the Conference from October 12–17, 2010. At the Conference I was elected President for a Foreign Policy simulation and Chief Justice for a judicial simulation in my leadership group.
During a keynote address by Maya Enista, CEO of Mobilize.org, whose mission is to improve the way democracy works by investing in Millennial-driven solutions, she urged the millennial generation to get involved in our communities. I was moved to take action but did not know what to do. After a while, I decided that since education reform is something that affects everyone at some point or another and is currently affecting me, there is no reason why students (the ones that education affects) should be left out of the conversation.
What was next?
I first went to Jordan Magenta who is an activist in the community, and asked him for his collaboration. He agreed. He is a big force behind organizing STRIVE(STudents RE-investing In Valuable Education). Jordan is a politically active student in Saline, MI, and a dedicated and knowledgeable person who has been and will be a vital part of STRIVE.
Let’s talk about STRIVE.
As education reform becomes a national issue, the most important people involved, the students, are being left out of the conversation. People say that this generation of students can’t learn, that they won’t learn, and that no one can teach them. In fact, author Mark Bauerline calls us “The Dumbest Generation.” What these people don’t realize is that this generation WANTS education reform. We WANT to compete in a global economy with students from places like China and India. What we don’t want is to sit around while those at the top make policy decisions that affect our education, our future, and the future of this country. We want a better education, and we want a voice in the system that affects us the most.
The goals of this group are to get students from all walks of life involved in helping to reform their education system. We simply want to be a part of the conversation. For this to happen, we will make a goal of holding regular meetings in different areas (i.e., rural, urban, and suburban) in order to get input from students from all different backgrounds about what is wrong, what is right, and what can be changed to help students in our education system. At the very least, our goal is to get students talking about what they need and voice these concerns to our government.
What process do you have in mind?
In order to accomplish our goals, we will hold regular meetings at varied locations (i.e., rural, urban, and suburban) with people from different backgrounds and at schools with varying graduation rates. These meetings will be open to all current high school students, At some point we hope to hold meetings for students who have dropped out of high school, those who went directly into the workforce, and those pursuing higher education. When this coalition of students has grown to a sufficient point, we will convene in the state capital to petition our state government based on our needs. If necessary and pragmatic, we will attempt to get signatures for a petition of a well-supported education policy and get said policy on the Michigan state ballot.
To those who say we can’t learn or won’t learn, to those who say we can’t compete with students from other countries, we want to show that, yes we can. And yes we will!
Finally, what questions do you have for students?
Well, here are some I am mulling over:
- How do we determine who is a good teacher? Which teaching methods work? Which do not?
- How do we address budget issues? (What are WE willing to have cut as far as classroom learning? What are we willing to have cut as far as extra-curriculars are concerned? (What do we need to keep?)
- Why do we see graduation rates declining? Can we do anything about this? Can we change our education system to address this or is it an issue of personal choice?
- Do standardized tests work? Do they really measure how a school is performing? (Which ones work and which ones don’t?).
- How can we revamp failing schools? What separates these schools from schools with high graduation rates?
- What kinds of time-wasters do we experience each day at school?
- What changes need to be made to the curriculum? (e.g., Why do we read literature from 100 years ago that seems to have little or no relevancy today?).
- Should we focus more on job-oriented/personal interest-based education or getting a more rounded education?
- Longer school days? Longer school years?
- Other issues to address: charter schools (Pros and Cons), school start time, homework, and how these affect our education.
STRIVE is student-organized and student-run, with support from school teachers and administrators to help with cooperation from different school districts.
As of writing STRIVE has received the support of:
Scot Graden, District Superintendent, Saline, MI
Ben Williams, Principal, *Saline High School
Brad Bezeau, Vice Principal, Saline High School
Eric Diroff, Vice Principal, Saline High School
*Saline High School is among the few public high schools in Michigan to receive a distinguished GreatSchools Rating of 10 out of 10.