Children as Change Agents

change agent
“Waters of March” by Professor Bop, (Flickr) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs Generic Licence

What has been most powerful for me about the Arab Spring, is hearing the voices of people who might not otherwise have been heard. This is the exciting potential of new technologies as a tool for global citizenship.

In relating this to children, they also have the potential to have their voices heard.  But as educators, we must ask ourselves, what is the most important thing we need to teach children in becoming “agents of change, capable of actively contributing to their well-being and that of their communities” (Fonseca & Bujanda, p.245). Journalism students interviewed by Mihailidis & Shumow, “saw a need for individuals to have the necessary training and motivation to be informed and critical thinkers” (p. 43).  I wonder if there is a simpler solution. In becoming informed and critical thinkers, what if our primary focus was helping children learn to listen?

Ernesto Sirolli in his Ted Talk Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! learned this through his unsuccessful aid work in Africa as a young man. Now, he says, “I do something very difficult. I shut up and listen.”  He says, “The first principle of aid is respect.” He marvels at the “miracle of the intelligence of local people,” and in his work, he has “become a servant of local passion.” He quotes Peter Drucker, well-known management consultant, who said, “Planning is the kiss of death in an entrepreneurial society.”

What could this mean for us as educators? I think first, we have to respect the intelligence of the children we teach, shut up and listen. Secondly, I think we have to throw our plans out the window, and see what the children come up with. Thirdly, I think we have to create a community that encourages their passions, not ours.

Fonseca, C., & Bujanda, M. (2011). Promoting children’s capacities for active and deliberative citizenship with digital technologies: the cade project in Costa Rica. Annals Of The American Academy Of Political & Social Science, 633(1), 243-262.

Mihailidis, P., & Shumow, M. (2011). Theorizing journalism education, citizenship, and new media Technologies in a Global Media Age. Taiwan Journal Of Democracy7(2), 27-47.

Sirolli, E. (2012, November). Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! Ted Ideas Worth Spreading. Retrieved from


About sandralbecker

An educator who is passionate about the creation of a school Learning Commons, which supports inquiry, critical thinking, and collaboration.
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2 Responses to Children as Change Agents

  1. I’m really interested in the idea of how people find their passion. Ken Robinson wrote about it in The Element, and it appears to be the basis of how people develop resiliency. I like your suggestion that we respect students’ passions. But I read a book that was both fascinating and discouraging called What Should I Do With My Life, by Po Bronson. In it, most of the people who were interviewed by the author never really found their passion. I suspect that it’s unreasonable to expect that children have already identified an enduring theme that will guide them through the rest of their life. How do we help children to find their passion? How do they know when they’ve got it? Does it always last, or does it sometimes change? Can a person been driven by more than one passion? Having posed all of those questions, I think the only way to answer them is by listening to children and allowing them to explore, as you have proposed.

  2. caroleware says:

    It is interesting that you point out, “hearing voices of people who might not otherwise have been heard”. I recall reading a blog (Baghdad Burning – which has now apparently been made into a book) many years ago written by a young lady living in the aftermath of Iraq. Prior to reading it, I only knew what CNN showed – the huge bombing by the US, that Bush had to right the wrongs (I will admit that politics and world happenings are not my strongest interest). After reading this blog, I had a new understanding of what life was like for these average citizens living with intermittent power, water and decreased mobility. This information added a significant point of view that the “popular media” did not share with the world.

    That was definitely a case of shutting up and listening to the people most affected. I agree that part of being a critical thinker is learning to listen, learning to weigh the options and make informed decisions. Giving our younger learners the skills to think critically about the information they are presented will allow them to move beyond collecting information to acting in ways they feel is appropriate is something we as educators can do. It is not our place to tell them what to think, but how to think.
    Laad & Lewis state that the internet “… encourages globalization, interaction, participation and usability as it offers the ability to access information and to communicate with others at any time and in any place and regardless of the physical location of other people” (2012, p. 10). Working with our students to become strong citizens, digital and otherwise, will help to support this task as well. Fonesca & Bujanda found that students working through their CADE project, gained an “increased ability to listen and participate in dialogue” (2011, p. 256). I think this is where I will try to focus my teaching with my students, building skills they can then use as young adults and adults to engage in topics they have strong feelings about.

    Fonseca, C., & Bujanda, M. (2011). Promoting children’s capacities for active and deliberative citizenship with digital technologies: the cade project in Costa Rica. Annals Of The American Academy Of Political & Social Science, 633(1), 243-262.
    Laad, G. & Lewis, G. (2012). Role of social media in crisis communication. Retrieved from

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