Connecting two concepts: student voice and the strong image of the child

NOTE: This is a paper that I turned in for my sociological foundations in education class.  I was tasked to identify a sociological theory or concept, tie it in to how it affects social equity, and then tie it in to my own work.  Instead, I chose to  work on a pedagogical concept, and I tied it into a Reggio Emilia concept.  Enjoy!

Connecting two concepts: student voice and the strong image of the child

The Marginalization of Students

Students as a social class experience alienation and are marginalized in society and in their own schools.  Students experience alienation “as a result of large school and class sizes, segregation by age and ability that can prevent students from learning from more experienced peers, and a view of students as clients that is often perpetuated throughout school decision making and thereby increases the distance between teachers and students” (Mitra, 2004, p. 652).  This alienation results in student opinion that their voices are rarely heard and that students feel anonymous and powerless.  Consequently, many students disengage from school resulting in increasing numbers of students who cut classes, achieve less academically, and drop out of school. (Mitra, 2004, p. 652) Michael Fielding (2004) cites David Marquand and how Marquand attributes this alienation to the dominant voice of schools being the middle class voice and compares our school models to “market models.”  He continues on to say that this dominant voice is reflected in how dispiriting education is for students who are not part of the dominant class which undermines efforts to build responsible and confident citizens in the community (p. 198). The alienation and marginalization of students in schools raises important concerns about social equity and injustice in regards to systemic problems with educational institutions that lead to negative outcomes for the student social class as a whole regardless of race, class, gender, disability, and age.

Student Voice as a Reaction to Marginalization

In reaction to these dilemmas, there have been profound developments in the area of student voice as a pedagogical practice.  Michael Fielding (2004), a principal protagonist in the academic theorizing and advocacy for student voice, defines student voice as follows:

“Student voice covers a range of activities that encourage reflection, discussion, dialogue and action on matters that primarily concern students, but also, by implication, school staff and the communities they serve.  This includes such developments as peer support arrangements (e.g., buddying systems, peer tutoring, peer teaching, circle time), systems that encourage and enable students to articulate their views and see through appropriate changes (e.g., school councils, students on governing bodies, students on appointment panels for new staff – including deputy heads and head teachers, ‘child-to-child initiatives, and students-as-researchers), and a small but growing cluster of activities that encourage various forms of overt student leadership (students as lead-learners and student-led learning walks).” (p. 199)

These types of activities support student voice, and requires teachers to take on a different role and perspective than what they may be accustomed to doing. (Mitra, 2001, p. 93)  In some cases, by building on the concept of student voice, school reform happens naturally and quickly.  Students feel a sense of intrinsic motivation and responsibility for their own learning (Mitra, 2001, p. 92).  Learner-centered teaching is a subsequent outcome of implementing student voice (Fielding, 2004, p. 208).  Progressive and radical approaches for school reform begin to take place revolving around the student-led insights of how their education should be done.  These approaches become a vehicle for social change on the path to creating responsible and engaged citizens of the world (Morgan, 2001, p. 155).  Furthermore, it cherishes and validates human creativity and expression (Fielding, 2004, p. 197). Michael Fielding (2007) cites Jean Rudduck, a champion of student voice and mentor to Fielding, co-authored a chapter which highlights the importance of student voice and how it can lead to social change.  She argues that students opinions on teaching and learning are the most important opinions, that students have social maturity beyond what institutions give them credit for, and that true dialogic relationships are necessary for productive and real change.  In Rudduck’s point of view, student voice is an initial spark on the path to providing true curricular and pedagogical choice in society which would reflect values of democracy, equity, and social justice (Fielding, 2007, p. 325)

Student Voice and The Strong Image of the Child

The concept of student voice is especially applicable to my own personal practice as an early childhood educator when put in juxtaposition with the concept of the strong image of the child, which is a highlight of the Reggio Emilia approach.  Carlina Rinaldi (2001), author and champion of the Reggio Emilia approach, begins a chapter on the image of the child like this, “The implementation of policies and practices in early childhood education is inexorably linked to the pedagogical question of what the society expects from the children.”  (p.49) The Reggio Emilia approach takes a bigger picture of what outcomes they want for children, and they build systemic policies and practices to reinforce those beliefs.  Loris Malaguzzi (1994), who provided the inspiration behind the Reggio Emilia approach, articulates this strong image of children to be much bigger than simply giving students a voice, but rather it incorporates all aspects of children’s doing and sense of self:

“Children have the right to imagine.  We need to give them full rights of citizenship in life and in society. It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests.  This is the image of the child that we need to hold.

Those who have the image of the child as fragile, incomplete, weak, made of glass gain something from this belief only for themselves.  We don’t need that as an image of children.

Instead of always giving children protection, we need to give them the recognition of their rights and of their strengths.” (p. 5)

Student voice, then, holds the same intentions as the strong image of the child.  It is differentiated qualitatively in approach and pedagogical practice, but can be utilized in combination to give children a meaningful role in schools.

The stark contrast between this concept of strong image of child and student voice is that Malaguzzi and Rinaldi are talking about young learners.  I did not encounter a single study on student voice being applied to early childhood education.  Adults tend to do much for the child out of care and protection.  This is a dangerous perspective.  As Malaguzzi (1994) says, “Overactivity on the part of the adult is a risk factor. The adult does too much because he cares about the child; but this creates a passive role for the child in her own learning”  (p. 3). It will then be my own cause and mission to combine the concept of student voice and the strong image of the child in a true and respectful approach.  I cannot speak or do for a child without taking away their voice.  If it is my personal belief and philosophy that part of the aim of education is to build responsible and engaged citizens of the world, then I must connect student voice into the strong image of the child in my practice.


Fielding, M., (2004). ‘New wave’ student voice and the renewal of civic society. London Review of Education, 2(3), 197-217.

Fielding, M., (2007). Jean Rudduck (1937-2007) ‘Carving a new order of experience’: a preliminary appreciation of the work of Jean Rudduck in the field of student voice. Educational Action Research, 15(3), 323-326.

Malaguzzi, L., (1994). Your image of the child: where teaching begins. Retrieved from

Mitra, D.L., (2001). Opening the floodgates: giving students a voice in school reform. FORUM, 43(2), 91-94.

Mitra, D. L., (2003). Student voice in school reform: Reframing student-teacher relationships. McGill Journal of Education, 38(2), 289-304.

Mitra, D.L., (2004). The significance of students: can increasing “student voice” in schools lead to gains in youth development?. Teachers College Record, 106(4), 651-688.

Morgan, W., & Streb, M., (2001). Building citizenship: how student voice in service-learning develops civic values. Social Science Quarterly, 82(1), 154-169.

Rinaldi, C., (2001). Reggio Emilia: the image of the child and the child’s environment as fundamental principle. In L. Gandini & C.P. Edwards (Eds.), Bambini: The Italian Approach to Infant/Toddler Care (pp. 49-54). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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