A Draft Policy for Students

Students have historically been the leaders and catalysts in social change movements: for example, recently in Korea and China. Students worldwide have taken to the streets to demand freedom, an end to governmental corruption, and respect for human rights. Other students are working in less visible but equally valuable ways. We are preparing for our roles as world leaders. There is much work to be done. Powerful and united action will help us to maintain our momentum.

Here is my view of the situation of students in the U.S. today—who we are and the environment we live in—and my proposal of concrete steps for change. This statement is a draft. Your comments, suggestions and revisions will lead to a more accurate picture, which can be formed into a second draft. Our view of the situation will evolve as we think more clearly on the subject.


Students share important qualities:

We are eager to learn. We are hungry for new information and an understanding of the world. We naturally love to explore and discover. We see the world as exciting and full of opportunities.

We have an unlimited capacity to take in what we experience. We also have a vast reserve of past experience and previously—learned knowledge upon which to draw. We are experts at skateboarding, math, fishing, Frisbee, economics, and psychology. Our knowledge is valuable and of great benefit to the world.

We are brilliant.

We are powerful.

We have enormous creative potential.

We are thoughtful and full of energy. We lead active and exciting lives. We have many beautiful dreams and are hopeful about the future. We are committed to justice and social change.


Unfortunately, the educational system has been set up to make us forget many of these inherent qualities. Schools are a central element in the oppression of young people and young adults. They often turn a naturally exciting process into an exercise in boredom. (See “The Nature of the Learning Process” by Harvey Jackins.)

Students are routinely denied the power to decide what they want to learn. They spend their time trying to figure out what the professor wants to hear, rather than pursuing their own interests and ideas. Furthermore, the inflexible system requires students to learn at a predetermined rate, regardless of their own experiences and preferences.

Tests and exams further obscure our natural abilities. Rather than feeling confident of their innate intelligence, many students base their self-worth on their test performance. Students, being quite adaptable, learn the art of performing well on arbitrary exams. This skill comes at the expanse of developing more useful knowledge for solving the world’s problems. Those students who are unable to learn the art of test-taking face serious economic consequences in the job market.

The path to a diploma, whether from high school or college, is scattered with obstacles. Perhaps the largest one is the amount of pressure to which we are subjected. From early in high school, we are encouraged to decide upon a course of study and a career which will last a lifetime. We are pressured into agreeing to fill the roles which the social system requires for its continued functioning. The accepted roles only perpetuate the injustices of our world. We can refuse these limited models and create our own.

It may appear that our career choice or field of study is the most important or valid part of our identity. In fact, students have a broad range of dreams, goals, and ideals. These are equally important in defining ourselves. In addition, the occupation of student is vital for the future of our world. No job is more crucial than learning. We often receive the message that we are not fully adult until we have graduated.

Being a student is a full-time occupation. However, we are not paid for this endeavor. In many cases we must pay large sums of money for the “privilege” of an education. The financial aid system fails to provide adequate resources. Thus, class divisions are perpetuated.

A person who must work to support herself while in school carries an inhuman burden. The jobs available to students are usually undesirable, poorly paid, or both. Student employees also may suffer from a lack of respect from their employers. Lack of respect is the primary element in the oppression of young people and adults.

Many come to see their diploma only as a ticket to narrowly-defined success and wealth. They lose sight of their dream to create a better world. With our dreams obscured, we perceive the pursuit of material goods as the only satisfactory alternative. Any threat to our chances for success, as illustrated in the mass media, is extremely frightening. This, perhaps, is the reason some protest movements fail to achieve popular support. Unfortunately, after many years in school, most of us find that even material wealth is an elusive goal.


Like all oppressed groups, students internalize the oppression and turn against each other. Teachers openly compare the “slow” students to the “bright” ones. We are often separated according to these artificial groupings and given little opportunity to see the humanness in each other. Through the testing and grading mechanism, students become intensely competitive.

As well as the separation according to false measures of intelligence, students are segregated by age, race, sex, and area of study. This occurs at the level of individual classes as well as entire schools. For example, physical education classes are often separated by sex. People of color do not have equal access to public or private colleges. They are also under-represented in advanced level classes.

In addition, students are separated by grade level. Animosity and competition are encouraged between age groups.

Furthermore, students perceive specific areas of study as more valuable. Engineering is seen as a more important major than history. In fact, every area of human knowledge is vital and fascinating.

Thus, the educational system limits our interactions with people of different cultures, values and viewpoints to instill in us the accepted norms of society.


One effect of the internalized oppression is to isolate students from each other. Students are taught that they must learn on their own. To work with other students is called cheating, the ultimate crime in school. However, students rarely receive adequate attention from the overworked teachers. A logical solution would be for students to help each other learn. We all have something to offer.

The greatest obstacle to a creative coalition between students, teachers, parents, administrators, and policy-makers is undischarged fear around closeness. These varied groups of people are actually mutual allies in the learning process.

Study groups and support groups can break the isolation. Teachers and administration can be approached as potential allies, rather than as enemies. They have devoted their lives to helping young people, in spite of minimal recognition from society. Teachers usually welcome questions and input from students.


Because of demanding course loads and other pressures, students sometimes neglect their personal well-being. This is not surprising, considering the numerous assaults which cause us to question our self-worth. In reality, each of us is a priceless treasure. Simply because of who we are, we deserve to fully nurture and even pamper ourselves.

The elements of nurturing ourselves include eating well, exercise, rest, and eliminating addictions. Healthy students are much more effective at learning, studying, and leading.


That communication be established between students on a local, regional, and national scale. I propose newsletters to share information, experiences, and successes. Although we are all working for the same end, students are often unaware of their comrades’ activities at other schools. Solidarity is crucial to effective action.

At the local level, that older students share their valuable information with their younger peers. High school seniors can help freshmen decide which classes to take and which teachers to avoid. College students can share their experiences with high school students. Perhaps clubs or committees could be formed for this purpose.

I propose that student leaders form constructive connections with teachers and administrators. At the university level, student government wields substantial influence over school policy. Effective leaders are needed in these positions.

Finally, student-run publications such as newspapers and yearbooks are a way to exchange ideas and information. Our written words can be tremendously influential.


There are ways to discharge the hurts around learning and students’ oppression. Look at your earlier memories around learning and school. Work on the anger, hopelessness, isolation, and whatever other feelings come up.

Use goal-setting sessions to stay focused and keep perspective. Start with your boldest long-range dream and work back, step-by-step, to the near future (tomorrow or next week).

See “The Necessity of Long Range Goals” by Harvey Jackins for more information.

Talk about your struggles as a student. This contradicts the feelings of isolation, and that no one wants to hear. Tell your life story as a student.

Try a session on pleasant memories around learning. This is a light and fun technique to keep focused on present time. The counselor asks questions like “Tell me a pleasant memory learning about trees/math/baseball, etc.” The memories need not be school-related. If the client appears stumped, quickly move to another topic.

Make the decision to trust your own thinking. The educational system causes us to doubt the validity of our own thoughts and ideas.

Joanne Jefferson of Nova Scotia, Canada has proposed the following students’ commitment:

With complete acknowledgement of my infinite intelligence and creative ability, I joyfully promise that from this moment on I will never treat any student, including myself, with anything less than absolute respect.

Share your brilliance! What ideas do you have? What techniques have been successful for you?


I am a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. I am also the Information Coordinator for college students. I would love to hear from you! Please send me your comments, suggestions, revisions, and ideas. I would also be interested in your answers to the following questions:

— What are your goals and dreams?

— What have been your most difficult struggles and greatest successes as a student?

— How have you set up effective support for yourself?

Write to me!

Paul G. McKenzie
Raleigh, North Carolina
(Reprinted from Present Time)

Last modified: 2015-07-21 17:37:24+00