Theresa Soares: Student Town Halls Should Be About Students, Communities

by Theresa Soares

A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning NBC’s Education Nation held a student town hall. The focus of the Town hall was to “try” and capture what students had to say about education. Besides students… who else was watching?

Theresa Soares

The most effective student town hall meeting would be one that is not commercially televised but one that is community-based. It would have an audience comprised of policy makers, school administrators, philanthropists (themselves), and public journalists. Front and center would be a panel of students representative of every fault line and unit of division within society. They would not be chosen by set criteria; rather, they would choose themselves to become a part of the panel.

Those concerned about the future of our country should look towards the revival and rejuvenation of youth civic and political engagement through the exercising of voice in education.  What can students contribute to education reform? What’s the purpose of today’s public education system in the United States? A democratic nation is only as strong as its public education system. If its public education system doesn’t extend to the majority’s (students) voice box, then isn’t the future of our democracy ultimately at stake? When the ability for the marginalized to voice the truth is diminished, then what exactly are we left with? How can we expect students to eventually become active participants in our democratic system if we don’t value and encourage their own active participation in their own educational policy?

If students are expected to learn from each other, and from their teachers, and from their administrators, and from their schools, and their communities, and from the world… then what can the world learn from its students? Revitalization of education in the United States is not private, it’s not public, it’s not polarized.  It’s a universal issue, and without the early self-representation and self-advocacy of individuals in social institutions such as schools, how can we expect to truly enhance the quality of education for all in America?

Put simply, to value the student voice is to not express ageism in the United States. NBC’s rendition of a student town hall was a step in the right direction, and their efforts to include the student voice in their network broadcast Education Nation event should not go unnoticed. From a very basic standpoint, though, what good is a “student” discussion that is framed and controlled by the corporate media? It is now up to individuals in positions of authority to recreate student town halls in their own communities. Even more importantly, it’s now up to individuals not in places of authority to voice their concerns and to make known the issues facing their own communities.

To every journalist: If your job is to report the pure unadulterated truth – then why isn’t every educational reporter talking to students?

Theresa Soares is a maturing journalist, narrator, storyteller, and dyslexic. She entered her professional career as one of the youngest women ever to be hired by the United States Department of the Navy. After two years at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California, she joined The Harry Singer Foundation in Carmel California where she provides support for philanthropic research and development. Theresa is a student at Mills College in California where she is studying journalism and intermedia arts. Currently, she is covering organic public interest radio reporting in the Oakland Unified School District. Her interests range from dyslexia and neurodiversity advocacy to empowering student and minority voices within education. Follow her on twitter @Theresa_Soares.

Theresa Soares
Theresa Soares is a blogger, writer, and activist interested in dyslexia, creativity, and cerebro-diversity. Theresa entered her professional career as one of the youngest women ever to be hired by the United States Department of the Navy. After two years at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California, she joined The Harry Singer Foundation in Carmel California where she currently leads philanthropic research and development. She is also the founding and current author of the Ghost-Lexia Blog, where she regularly writes on ways in which dyslexic entrepreneurship is challenging the status quo in both education, and work. On July 14th 2012, she released a blog post revealing how she was forced to submit her lowest ACT scores when she applied to college as a result of not receiving accommodations for her learning difference. This post is perhaps her most significant contribution to the anti-high stakes testing movement to date. Theresa is a student at Mills College in Oakland California where she is currently studying sociology, education, and journalism.