The National Capital Secondary School Students’ Parliament failed miserably last year at a panel on politics, civics and leadership. The students failed to represent their peers on a national level for the first time since the group began in 2008. Why should students at Georgetown, Sidwell Friends, Woodrow Wilson and other public high schools be any different?
The commentariat — both political and academic — blithely ignored these students’ failure to remain relevant for more than a year. This failure ought to command attention.
The most distressing aspect of the students’ public performance has been how significantly the public missed the fact that the nomination process for this session was rigged. The students were selected from student governments at their respective high schools based on popularity — and not based on their abilities to do the job. (Though that is, of course, the very reason they were selected to begin with.) They were not placed in the same positions and had no chance to form alliances with like-minded people; they were placed in a “straw man” position of least resistance.
This means that if the students wanted to begin the session with a plan — to pass a resolution calling for the United States to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council, for example — they would be unable to adopt the resolution.
The selection process of students at these schools is more akin to the Senate, a partisan, college-admission-style ranking that makes it difficult for the children of wealthy parents to get accepted. Schools have all but eliminated campus caucus and election processes in which students are given equal power to make the nominations.
The current system of selecting students for these specialized councils fails to ensure that students represent each other and reflect the diverse values and perspectives of their communities. Students at all their schools are asked to select a candidate; they can vote for the first time when they learn about a candidate who is recommended by a school board official, who is then required to serve in the position even if the student community has rejected them.
The students’ curriculum has a fair share of superficial forms of extracurricular activity that are fueled by a perception of the administration and enrollment counselors of selective high schools. Perhaps the students would better serve their communities if they asked relevant questions and learned about the alternative coursework that many students are enrolled in at public schools, where their peers are juggling classes of up to 10 hours a day while also covering extracurricular requirements.
There is no question that these students can be engaged and bring unique perspectives to their chosen issue. They need the adults around them to respect that.
The students have earned the right to engage. Inclusivity and community-building are at the core of the social and academic activities of the students. Canada, just like the United States, boasts a rich history of many brilliant women with their own foreign policies to defend. It would be a shame if those efforts are shunned by their peers.
Danysa Havel has taught social studies at George Washington University and George Mason University since 2006. Kathleen Raine has taught history and world geography at Fairfax County Public Schools since 2000. They may be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected]