Saturday, April 26, 2008
STAR testing has taken over James Logan in a dramatic whirlwind like it does every year at this time in spring, inducing groans of boredom and cries for freedom from underclassmen and juniors, eliciting teasing smiles from seniors who are allowed to sleep in and thus feel obligated to flaunt it, and loading stress-filled days of preparations on teachers. And, like it has been in past years, one more ingredient has to be added: the student forum.
Student forums. The very phrase makes me frown. I cannot ridicule the intent, for it is a good one: it serves to inform students of situations that involve all of the schoolís sizeable population, or which we students are a majority, and to involve the student community in contributing ideas to better the school. Lovely. But, as in most cases, the intent doesnít quite matter in the long run. What is seen is what actually happens.
So what does happen in these student forums? Next to nothing.
That may be an exaggeration, but it is a slight one. If not, then what happens must be an equivalent of nothingness: unproductiveness, perhaps, or lack of benefit. My reasoning follows thus. The student forum lasts for exactly thirty minutes. In this time, an entire class must settle down, receive all preparatory materials, and get through all of the background information preceding the forum. Assume this takes aboutÖfive minutes. That leaves twenty-five minutes for discussion. Take into consideration that the discussion needs time to warm up, and usually starts slow. Also consider that discussions in any and all classes have never ended satisfactorily in less than twenty minutes. So, where does this leave us?
What concerns me is that these forums are covering important information that will impact the immediate future of the school, yet there is a gaping problem with them. When a class must turn in a rushed, half-attempted conclusion, can a person really be confident that the answer he receives is the one that truly represents the studentsí views? Adding weight to the problem is the set of questions presented for discussion. They are extremely vague and difficult to present and initial answer to, let another a final one. One such question could take an hour, even in a small group. Factor in that there is a set of such questions and more than just several such groups in the class, and the expectation for satisfying answers is bewildering. Students are to present their opinions like this?
The time-to-process ratio is not all that is disturbing. Many students just seem to express no interest in the discussion whatsoever. Many take advantage of this extra half-hour to scribble in the last few problems of homework they havenít yet completed, or to doodle a message to their friends sitting nearby. This would seem to violate the point of a student forum. Rather than getting student opinions from the entire student population, one gets half an opinion from a quarter of the population.
That doesnít exactly make the best information with which to form the future of James Logan High School.
Iíll confess that in my first few student forums, I thought it was a good idea. Wow! They care about what the students think and go out of their way to find out! My view of the concept has changed, however. After just a few experiences, already doubt creeps up. Is there any benefit coming out of this idea? Does it actually achieve the goals made by the intent of the forums?
To be quite honest, I think the answer is no. It isnít a problem with the administrators or teachers, and blame shouldnít fall on them. They have the motivation behind their work with a good intention, and they are trying, after all. However, I think it is just slowly being proven that students do not care enough to make the concept of student forums work.
To me, if a student doesnít care enough about his or her environment, life, or duty at school to contribute, why even bother asking in the first place? It is a near waste of time and effort to cater so politely to them if they will not try to help the community. There are many ways immediately available to the student body if they would like to try. To make their opinion known about school issues, they could talk to the administrators as they make their rounds and errands about campus, or email them if there isnít the time to meet in person. They could become a student senator or part of the student cabinet. The Courier, the very thing you are looking at right now, is yet another convenient place to do so. Those who care to make their opinion known will find a way to do it. Resources are not a problem, and if one has no access to those provided, finding access to them is but a bothersome little obstacle. I stand by the thought that if a student cares enough to make his or her thoughts known, there is a way to get around that obstacle and feel the satisfaction of proving his or her point.
I understand that sometimes, those who do not think their opinion important enough will not volunteer to present their ideas. And sometimes, those very ideas will be the crisp, new, and wonderful way to solve a problem. However, the student forum does not cultivate those ideas. If they will not present their opinions with the resources that already exist, what is the chance that they will spell their idea out in front of an entire class with only thirty minutes to fight for that moment to claim the stage? Itís a difficult job to make oneís voice heard in that kind of calamity.
With that being said, Iím not demanding that student forums be overthrown, bagged up, and thrown into a locked cage. However, if student forums are to be continued as one of the main ways in which students are to present his or her ideas, the answers and solutions that arrive from them should be carefully considered. One cannot just look at those answers and take them for their face value. Instead, a person needs to thoughtfully sort through what might have influenced those answers, and how and why these answers might have arrived at the top of the stack. While the fact that problems may have been addressed does point out that it is in fact a problem, it does not immediately point it out as a priority. The answers from a student forum can be limited and less informational then they could be.
Remember that you can lead a horse to water, but you canít make it drink. You can put forth the grounds for the student forum, but you canít make everybody speak. Itís an important fact to remember.