Students' Lived Experiences Matter

Young people today have become increasingly disengaged with school, feeling disconnected from an educational system that continues to fail them with inadequate resources in urban and rural schools, and blames achievement disparities on students for not taking advantage of “educational opportunities”. Research has shown that students often feel that their voices and experiences are irrelevant to process of education, which further decreases their interest and active participation in learning (Lee, 2001). Students become disconnected from a school system that disaffirms their personhood and existence, only seeing them as “at-risk,” unmotivated, less intelligent, and unlikely to succeed in life. These type of messages that many of our youth receive, intentionally or unintentionally, silences their voices, alters their interest in participating in academic learning, and perhaps more importantly, it strips them of their humanity.

As an educator and mentor, I strongly believe in the power of affirming students’ voices and lived experiences. Students do want to learn, but they also wanted to know that their thoughts and realities matter. However, within schools at the both the K-12 and college levels, students often become disconnected from education due to classes that only value their mind, and not the other aspects of their divine identity. Rather than the traditional education that tends to value students’ intellectual minds, students are searching for an education that develops them as whole-beings, that allows them to reach a level of self-actualization. Students want “an education that is healing to the uninformed, unknowing spirit” (hooks, 1994, pp. 19). They want an education that is meaningful by acknowledging and drawing on their life experiences. Shifting educational practices towards a more humanizing way of learning and being can play a vital role in helping students know and believe that they are more than an exam or a paper, that they matter, and have great purpose in this world.