This week I learned of an exciting new project called Out the Mouths of Babes, with a focus on giving voice to those we talk so much about, but hear so little from. The following is an interview with the project's creator, a young man named Brandon Greene.
What are the goals of your project?
The goals of the Out the Mouths of Babes are three-fold:
- to increase student voice in the education space,
- to develop a passion for creative expression and civic engagement,
- to give students a single hub where they can discuss and read news, opinions, reviews and other pieces by student journalists all around the country that directly correlate to their experience thus creating a pipeline of future journalists commentators, etc.
Why do you think student voices are important today?
I think that student voices are important because in the current education dialogue we often see discussions about ways to change the system -- and thus ways to directly change the educational experience of students -- but we rarely ever hear from students. There are a lot of organizations with good intentions extolling the mantra that adults should come second and that we should act in ways that are best for students, while at the same time largely ignoring those students. A prime example of this, I felt, was the huge NBC Education Nation talk, which largely relegated students to a secondary or even non-existent status.
Students like Nikhil Goyal and others have shown that they can and should have a seat at the table. It is my hope that through Out the Mouths of Babes, we see just as many Nikhil Goyals as we see adult education writers.
To truly transform or at least improve our educational system we need to hear from all parties involved, and we need to really listen.
These students will eventually become adults, and I hope that Out the Mouths of Babes will help them to develop important self advocacy and civic engagement skills that will make them more participatory and informed citizens in the future.
Can you offer any examples of the sort of reporting you hope to encourage?
I would like to see reporting from the ground about how state or federal policies are changing the student experience for the better or for the worse. I would also like to see students write "how to do" pieces about studying for college entrance exams, writing admissions essays, etc. I want the site to be fully inclusive of the entire student experience. I would love to see students writing reviews about books/documentaries, etc. There are a lot of materials aimed at students but most of the reviews seem to be coming from adults, not students who are the users. It would be great to have some multimedia reporting built in, too; I'm hoping to have some mentors and industry veterans available to put together tutorials to teach students how to craft these pieces.
What experiences in your own life have led you to launch this project?
I have always been interested in education. From an early age, its importance was instilled in me. My mother's parents didn't have the opportunity to get much formal education, but they were extremely well read. My mother went on to become the first person in my family to get past the fifth grade and go on to graduate high school and college. She spent her entire career as an educator and has spent the last four years after retirement serving with AmeriCorps. My father's mother was also a lifelong educator.
Despite having educators in my family, I seemed to have problems in school. I got good grades but I was always outspoken, and there were never really any outlets for this. I had many experiences where as a student I felt powerless to react to what was occurring around me. When I was in high school, I was kicked out of an honors class because after finishing my work, I would put my head down, so as not to be disruptive. The teacher felt this was inappropriate. I was bused to a school far from home, but there was no early bus home for seniors who finished their courses early, but if you stayed around waiting for the regular bus, you would be threatened with arrest. This seemed like an insane policy to me, but there was nothing I could do as a student about it. Who could I talk to and why would they care?
My student experiences directly impacted the way I approached working with my students when I became a long term sub and teacher of record for a middle school Read 180 Program, as well as when I created a mentorship program for truancy students through AmeriCorps. Sitting in small groups I would hear students tell tales about their struggles, about teachers not being receptive or helpful, and about the overall school climate being miserable, but they felt powerless, just as I had once felt.
Prior to law school, I earned degrees in computer graphics and film, and through these I found creative ways to express myself. I became involved with student groups on campus and I felt for the first time like my voice mattered.
I took those experiences into work with a community organization that one a pretty significant civil rights fight in my home town of Las Vegas, and I have been using the power of the written word and creation of various media to advocate for issues of interest to me ever since.
I would like to give students that transformative feeling early on in their student careers.
How will young people be able to connect and participate? How can teachers help with this?
Out the Mouths of Babes will empower students to make connections between their selves and their world in deep, interactive ways. Students have valuable insight and perspective about our world, and deserve to have the platform to be heard and hear others.
For youth and young adults ages 10-21, opportunities to publish their unique perspective on a shared, public and targeted forum don't presently exist. This opportunity teaches students to:
- Engage peer readership. Publishing gives students the chance to create, maintain and build a public profile and a public voice. They will be read by a broader peer audience, and be known by a larger population.
- Engage peer feedback. Publishing offers students the chance to solicit a greater variety of peer feedback for their writing (both style and content). Unlike feedback from a teacher, which can sometimes seem out-moded (like impersonal rubrics) or singularly subjective, crowdsourced feedback from a general audience of peers is current and multi-varied. It puts the student in direct contact with her authorizing environment.
- Communicate professionally. Publishing both written and audio-visual content holds students accountable to a professional standard, thus providing them with a concrete reason to edit and prepare their work.
For youth and young adults ages 10-21, it is presently difficult to access unique and varied written ideas from people their own age. This exposes students to:
- News, opinions and observations. Our site aggregates outside content and houses its own original content. Because this content is created by and for a particular age group, it will feel particularly relevant and interesting to those in this age group. This thus gives students an appealing incentive to engage with news, opinions and observations.
- Civic engagement. Both in reading and writing (and commenting), students have the opportunity to engage in thoughtful, thought-provoking discussions with other student writers in the larger community.
- The power in themselves. Our site gives students the opportunity to dig deep for what they personally have within them - ideas and talent - to contribute to the larger world. It also gives students the opportunity to see ideas and talent from people their own age, and be inspired by all that is possible for young people.
With regard to how teachers can contribute, teachers who are already working with students in a student journalist capacity could encourage students to write pieces for publishing on Out the Mouths of Babes. Teachers who do not work with students in that capacity could encourage their students to write reaction or opinion pieces on current events or other topics relevant to their lessons. More broadly, a general promotion of the idea that civic engagement is critical for students of all ages is strongly supportive of our mission. We want students not only to know that there is a place for their voice, but to understand what a vital role their voice plays in the big picture. This message is best delivered to students by the people they look up to in their daily lives - by their teachers, their families, and their peers.
One of the things we hope to do is to create a feedback loop with teachers. We hope that these broad ideas we have about how teachers could help or be involved with promoting the mission of the organization would grow and be populated by the creativity of teachers. If there are teachers out there who have ideas on how this can be useful to them and their students, we would love to hear those ideas.
What sort of support will you need to make this happen?
In order to make Out the Mouths of Babes the best it can be, we believe that we need support from professional journalism organizations and media companies to help us ensure that our student participants are being armed with the proper professional journalistic skill sets, and to ensure that the students' voices carry weight and legitimacy in the education space. We need support from schools, school districts, and teachers to ensure that students understand the critical nature of their own expression and engagement, to encourage student voice, and to help students find their way to the site. This is critical in achieving our mission of fostering honest, engaging student conversation and creating a platform with tangible educational value.
We need support from writers, editors, and new media artists who can help create tutorials and who can give students ideas for how these skills are applicable to careers. We need support from universities so students can see that their engagement is a stepping stone on a track toward higher education and a meaningful career. Finally, we need support from parents in encouraging their students to take more active roles in their educational experience.
Any mix of the above to help us create a diverse board of directors would be tremendously helpful.
We also need financial support. We are asking for contributions to raise about $4,000 to be used to build our web site. Donations can be made here.
You can follow Brandon Greene on Twitter at @justbeingbgreen, and Out the Mouths of Babes at @outtmob.
What do you think of this new project? Do you have students who might be interested in participating?
Photo credit: Sarah Rubin, used with permission.