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 THE VIEW FROM HERE: Standing before the board


By Craig Ruvere /Columnist

(Sept. 16, 2010) — As former adolescents will undoubtedly tell you, teenagers rarely ponder anything profound. Seldom plagued by the daunting responsibilities of adulthood, they’re often afforded the luxury of living their lives in a false sense of reality.

But not all teenagers are satisfied simply being passive, as they strive to inspire change. Sadly, society feels they’re too inexperienced to formulate sound, logical opinions regarding the problems facing our world today, and few adults are willing to listen to what these courageous youngsters have to say.

I recently was told the story of a unique high school freshman who consistently attends board of education meetings in his district. While other classmates are no doubt sitting home mindlessly entertained by the glow coming from their cell phones, he is standing at a podium asking intelligent questions to the members of the board.

During a recent meeting, the young man respectfully questioned their reasoning for terminating a valued educator — logistically and accurately providing factual evidence to support his opinion, which resonated with many others in attendance. But instead of praising the teen for not adhering to complacently regarding his education, he was publicly chastised by one of the members of the board.

Rather than dignifying his questions with a respectable response, a very insensitive member said, “you need to start going through the proper channels before coming in here and asking us questions.”

Funny, I always thought the purpose of “public meetings” was to allow residents a chance to have their voices heard not silenced.

Local school boards seek to provide a better education for their students. But shouldn’t one of their responsibilities be encouraging our youth to wisely challenge what they do not support or understand? To call upon their freedom of speech in a mindful and educated way in the hopes of making a difference? Sadly the board member above behaved more like a stereotypical teenager than the young man standing at the podium that night.

Discouraging brave students from standing up for what they believe in is sending out a dangerous message. They will see no value in voting for presidential elections; no reason to challenge the proposals of state and local governments; no meaning behind questioning the wrong-doing going on all around us. Instead they’ll adopt the belief that one person truly can’t make a difference. Is there any wonder then why so many young people simply refuse to get involved?

The other night I stumbled upon a Web site I found quite applicable to this article. The site was entitled, “Students Speak Out-Minnesota.” From their site, “On Students Speak Out we share our experiences and ideas to help people who make decisions about our schools understand the issues that impact us. We want to define the issues for ourselves, and identify solutions. Our voices deserve to be in the mix. We can inspire change!”

As I mentioned, there are teenagers who are not satisfied with simply being passive members of society. They are full of insightful ideas and positive suggestions for not only their life but the lives of those around them. They possess the power to truly make a difference — to inspire change.

The start of the school year brings with it a new set of problems districts must navigate through. I fully understand that school boards are now faced with greater challenges than ever before, but that does not negate their role in providing answers to the residents and students they serve.

I ask school board members across this state to open their minds and listen to the young people who are eager to share their concerns, and reassure them that their voices are not going unnoticed. Adults like to believe that we know what’s best for the younger generation. But sometimes what they have to say is just what we need to hear.

“The View from Here” runs every other week, alternating with guest columns.

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