Saturday, January 16, 2021

Kids Won’t Be Fooled


I wonder if applications are down this year.

Apply for Student Member of the Board of Education by February 4, 2021

I keep seeing this item posted and shared on social media and every time I feel myself recoiling. What student in their right mind would want anything to do with this position after what has been unleashed on this year’s SMOB, Zach Koung? Is it possible that, lawsuits aside, angry parents may manage to kill interest in the SMOB position purely through their own bad behavior?

I have already started to wonder: what if we had a SMOB but no one applied?

Our students are not stupid. They see what’s happening. And I’m pretty sure that at least some who might have considered a run for this (once-respected) office are now shaking their heads and looking for more rewarding challenges. 

Now I haven’t done any research on this yet. It’s possible that my theory is completely incorrect. But, humor me for a moment. Think about what this year’s treatment of the Student Member of the Board is saying to our students. To many it will say: it’s not worth it. And they could be forgiven for walking away with that impression because of the overwhelming amount of vitriol available online maintaining that students deserve no meaningful input on decisions pertaining to their own education.

Some students may take the lesson that the SMOB’s role should be to show up, look nice, and take notes. Be safe, keep your head down. Pose for pictures looking like an upstanding citizen. Just be grateful to be in the room. Know your place. I don’t know how many high school students you know, but I’m pretty sure that is not an appealing job description for most. Be seen and not heard. Offend no one. 

The SMOB position in particular has attracted highly motivated, well-informed, and deeply involved young people who have been activists within their own school communities in one way or another. If you read the statements submitted by former SMOBS in support of the position, it’s clear that Zach Koung is a part of a continuing line of student leaders willing to take on big challenges in order to represent Howard County students.

To be sure, not every SMOB thinks alike or pursues the same issues. But it is the willingness to “get in there” and wrestle with the issues that connects them. Don’t we, as a community, want to foster that kind of leadership? Isn’t that a worthy investment in the future? If we render the Student Member of the Board position essentially toothless then the students themselves will have no reason to value it. We might as well hand out stickers for being nice. 

By the time you are in middle school and high school you know how meaningless a gesture that is. Kids won’t be fooled. 

Now, we all know a few exceptional young people who, when presented with a situation like this, become more determined and ramp up their responses to obstacles in their way. Perhaps we have a few out there right now. 

I sure hope so.

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