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  • Hi everyone.

  • My name is Kate Simonds, and I'm 17.

  • Upon hearing me say this or seeing the title of this talk, "I'm 17",

  • I'm sure you're thinking:

  • since she's on the stage,

  • she must have done something incredible that she can teach me about.

  • Maybe she-- I don't know, what did she do to deserve a TED talk?

  • Did she accidentally make millions

  • from investing in a successful startup company at age 15?

  • Maybe she cured some disease accidentally while interning in a lab

  • or maybe she received a perfect score on her SATs at the age of 7.

  • Did I do any of those things?

  • No.

  • I haven't done any of these things unfortunately

  • so here's the reason why I'm talking today:

  • When I took this stage, you all assumed that I'm some child genius

  • or some accredited creator because I'm 17.

  • I must have done something worthy of your attention.

  • Yet, the only qualification to being a TED speaker is to have an idea.

  • An idea you think is worth spreading.

  • And that's the problem.

  • Because I'm 17 and I'm on this stage,

  • you're only respecting me because I'm on this stage.

  • Maybe it's because you like my extremely high heels

  • but I don't think that's the reason why I should have your respect.

  • I don't think that I should have to be a high school millionaire

  • or to have cured an epidemic to be worth listening to.

  • I think that any idea should be respected no matter the age of who it comes from.

  • My voice has been disrespected what seems like hundreds of times.

  • I've been told by adults that I'm not ready to vote

  • even though I keep up with politics, and I'm sure of my beliefs.

  • I've been told to stop fighting for equality

  • because I have a little voice, and it won't fix anything.

  • The difference is, no one would say those things to an adult.

  • Any adult that fights for a cause like that

  • would be deemed a courageous and dedicated hero

  • but because I'm 17, I'm naïve and ignorant.

  • I have years of experience of my voice not mattering and not being respected.

  • I'm even told, according to a Life Science article from 2008,

  • that because I'm a teenager, I can't experience empathy

  • which is defined as the ability

  • to understand and share the feelings of an other.

  • Now, without any quantifiable data or scientific evidence

  • I can prove that article wrong.

  • Here's how.

  • I did it about a minute ago

  • when I understood the assumptions you made when I took this stage.

  • Now with empathy because I can relate to you,

  • I understand your hesitations to my qualifications

  • because when I was picked for this TED talk,

  • I wondered the same thing.

  • I'm just a 17 year old, what do I know?

  • What can I teach you about?

  • But by this time, I hope I've gained your respect.

  • I say "gained" because unlike the other speakers, I didn't have it initially.

  • There was an inherent paradigm of doubt.

  • This surrounds all students.

  • The reason I'm so passionate about this is because of my work

  • with a local non-profit organization which is called One Stone.

  • One Stone is a student-run, official 501(c) non-profit,

  • and after joining as a sophomore in high school,

  • I learnt how to create a budget, to run an interview,

  • how to speak in front of large groups like this one

  • and most importantly, how to problem solve.

  • Surrounded by high school students,

  • no one ever questioned the validity of my thoughts.

  • Let me tell you, we've got stuff done.

  • But things would change the second I'd leave the building.

  • I'd try talking to an adult about something I'd be working on,

  • my research or a project, and they would ask me, "What do you know?"

  • All teens are asked this, "What do you know? How could you know this?

  • You're only a teenager."

  • We are asked this when we talk about politics, education,

  • even with what we want to do with our lives

  • because we're "Too young to understand."

  • Just because we have vertical driver's licenses

  • and you all have horizontal driver's licenses,

  • apparently, we don't know what love is.

  • We can't know what we should or shouldn't believe,

  • we don't get to deserve, we don't get to talk about education or politics

  • because we don't live in the equal real world.

  • We actually do not get to speak for ourselves.

  • Now at this point, you may have noticed that I'm not using slides.

  • Part of the reason why is that I don't really need them

  • but to be honest with you, the real reason why is that this is a really unique chance

  • for a student like me to have your attention,

  • so I'm going to strategically direct 100 % of it to myself.

  • (Laughter)

  • This problem is bigger than it sounds.

  • From my contrasting experiences at One Stone

  • and with the help of the amazing teachers I've had,

  • I've become fully aware of the constant belittling that occurs to student voices.

  • This problem is big.

  • Look at our education system; as students, we have no say

  • in what we learn or how we learn it, yet we're expected to absorb it all,

  • take it all in, and be able to run the world someday.

  • We're expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then 3 months later

  • be ready to go to college or have a full time job,

  • support ourselves and live on our own.

  • It's not logical.

  • My mum is an elementary school teacher

  • and I always hear her and her colleagues talking about how kindergartners,

  • when asked a question, are thrilled to be raising their hands, all of them.

  • Yet, as you increase the grade level,

  • fewer and fewer hands are raised each year.

  • Now, in my senior classes in high school, it's common that, when asked a question,

  • no one raises their hand, and the teacher has to call out names from a roster.

  • I think this is because A, students aren't confident in their own answers,

  • B, students have been made fun of for answering too many questions correctly

  • or C, the students aren't listening.

  • Maybe they're texting in their lap

  • or most likely, just extremely disinterested.

  • These are all three really big problems.

  • Students have lost sight of their education's value

  • and have therefore stopped learning.

  • Because we're told, "You don't get it, you're 17.

  • You don't deserve to have the control over what you learn."

  • This statement and this mindset are toxic.

  • It's gotten to the point where we've begun to stop listening to ourselves.

  • Sometimes, I catch myself on a wild train of thought and stop myself thinking,

  • "Self, stop thinking about this.

  • You're only 17, you don't know anything about psychology.

  • What are you doing? Stop!"

  • and this is me, someone who totally believes in the validation of everyone's ideas

  • and is doing a TED Talk on the validation of everyone's ideas,

  • is discrediting my own because my thoughts don't come from an adult mind.

  • Last spring, my friend and I started a club.

  • Both of us are very outspoken, and we saw this as an opportunity

  • to make a difference in our school.

  • We anticipated it might take some work to convince the adults of our mission

  • but we didn't realize

  • that the real challenge would be convincing our classmates

  • that they could make a change as students.

  • When we tried to stand up for something,

  • they criticized us, they made fun of us for standing up for our beliefs.

  • And that's really, really bad.

  • Students question the validity of their own thoughts

  • because they don't come from adult minds,

  • yet what really separates adults and teenagers intellectually?

  • Is it an age?

  • Do we wake up on our 21st birthdays with everlasting knowledge?

  • Do we turn 18 and suddenly have ideas that are worth listening to?

  • Also, this magical age of adulthood is different in countries all over the world,

  • and it hasn't seemed to work so far, so who's right?

  • Or maybe it's from attaining a level of maturity which can come at any age

  • but I know a lot of high schoolers and college students

  • that are more mature than some adults I know.

  • So that's not logical either.

  • I think that it doesn't come with age or experiential maturity.

  • There's a definite biological difference between the two

  • but it comes instead with brain conformity.

  • Researchers at Stanford tested this a while back.

  • They looked at neurosignalling differences in the two ages

  • between adolescence and adults to see how brains were networked.

  • They ended up finding out adult pathways were much more constant

  • as if mapped than the younger subjects

  • whose pathways were more scattered or spontaneous or, dare I say, creative.

  • It's no secret that society has a lot of problems

  • that we just can't quite seem to solve.

  • And the adults behind them have conditioned attempts at solving them

  • which is why we haven't made any progress.

  • In my government class, my teacher has a really sarcastic poster that says,

  • "If you think our problems are bad, just wait until you see our solutions".

  • (Laughter)

  • Maybe this problem is that we're not thinking about these solutions creatively.

  • Teens, all the times are criticized for having rambunctiously inventive ideas.

  • But instead of making fun of these teenagers,

  • maybe the problem is that we should be harnessing these ideas,

  • we should be tapping into these spontaneous brain pathways

  • and using them to solve these problems.

  • This is my idea worth spreading:

  • a world of creative collaboration between adults and students.

  • It's a world where adults listen and respect student ideas,

  • and a world where students respect and listen to their own ideas.

  • The education system; it will improve dramatically,

  • students will care about learning

  • because they know that their education matters.

  • In the current status quo,

  • once you're educated past a certain point you've learned all about failure.

  • We're teaching our students right now

  • to lose belief in possible change or perfection.

  • In other words, we're teaching them

  • to stop thinking outside the box and to accept adequacy.

  • We're teaching them to conform to standards and to lose their creativity.

  • But before this happens, students don't think of logistics or limitations,

  • they're fearless.

  • Think of the kindergarteners; if we could harness this excited energy

  • before they lose it and foster it throughout their entire education,

  • think of the creative ideas that could come of it.

  • Possibly even more so, government could improve.

  • Once students know that their voices matter,

  • they'll feel obligated to participate.

  • They'll feel responsible for where policies are headed.

  • With improved efficacy comes progress across the board.

  • I'm not suggesting we extend suffrage to 5 year olds.

  • But I do think that we should encourage our 18 year olds to vote,

  • not discourage them, that so happens frequently.

  • Ask us about social security, ask us about environmental destruction,

  • ask us, ask us about anything.

  • Let us know that we matter because we do.

  • It's true that not all of us will understand these policies right away.

  • Just because we're teenagers doesn't mean that we don't understand politics

  • and similarly, just because you're an adult, doesn't mean that you do.

  • When you tell us that our votes don't matter, that we're not ready,

  • you lose, too.

  • Fewer and fewer people are voting each year, that's a fact.

  • And a loss of votes, to be dramatic, is a loss of democracy.

  • If you're not old enough, if you're 17 like me, 16, 15, 13, you still matter, too

  • even though you can't legally vote, and you aren't in college yet.

  • You are still valuable to society.

  • OK, if anyone has fallen asleep or something

  • or if you have found me completely disinteresting,

  • wake up, and listen to me now.

  • Students, we've been respectfully asking for student voice for years.

  • We've sat on representative seats at board meetings,

  • and we've protested standardized testing, but it hasn't been enough.

  • Look where we are.

  • We need to stop asking, and we need to start demanding.

  • More than student councils and board meetings, and clubs,

  • and representative seats.

  • We deserve to be trusted with more than setting up our parents' iPads.

  • (Laughter)

  • Our ideas matter.

  • But, unfortunately this will only work if it's a collaboration.

  • Adults, I'm asking you to work with us.

  • Give us your respect, hold us accountable.

  • I'm not asking for blind faith, I'm asking for you to let us prove it.

  • You hold me accountable for my education.

  • I can hold you accountable too.

  • Environmental destruction, national debt, unjust policies, social inequalities,

  • the list goes on and on.

  • We need to hold each other accountable for any progress to be made,

  • and I promise you it will.

  • I'm 17.

  • I haven't won a Nobel Peace Prize, I haven't solved inequality,

  • I haven't solved poverty, I haven't done any of the cool things that I've mentioned earlier.

  • But the difference is, I know that I can.

  • Teens, you need to believe in your voices, and adults, you need to listen.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Hi everyone.