High School Reformation

Education Reformation illustration by Kwang Choi

In my last post I discussed the experiential learning taking place in my journalism class. I believe this type of class is necessary at the middle-school and high-school level, but I am not suggesting that it’s the only type of class students will take. Students will continue to get traditional instruction in other classes, but by participating in experiential classes, they will see how to apply the knowledge to real-life experiences.

Some ideas I have (the genesis of these ideas started with collaborative discussions with other educators and parents) for other types of experiential classrooms is combining English classes with history classes. In this classroom students will decide what is important and search for materials that can be used to enhance the literary/historical experience. For example, American Literature and U.S. History can be combined to create their own “textbook” in essence. Students will search the internet, book sources, and eye-witness accounts for information about our country that is valid and interesting, and then offer commentaries as to why the materials they choose are necessary for students’ literary and historical experiences. The yearlong class would function the same way journalism functions; each literary/historical time period will be a 4-week project that will put students in various leadership and evaluative positions, as well as contributors to the textbook.

Like Journalism, this will be another elective class for students who would like to dig deeper into the elements of our country. A possible prerequisite would be American Literature or History; students will need to understand the time periods and what is currently being taught, so they have a basis for their own choices. They are “solving the problem” of what is the most essential or interesting things about our country. Other similar classes could create textbooks for World or British Literature and History. I could also see this expanding into the fields of psychology, philosophy, science, and math. How did the great thinkers in these fields influence history and literature? Students would need to read the works of Jung, Marx, Einstein, Darwin, and Pythagoras, to name a few, to discover how these great minds influenced our world.

Not only will the School of Discovery use these types of classes, but Secondary Schools will continue the experiential learning in conjunction with traditional classes. This will take a complete paradigm shift in what education looks like. I don’t think the traditional breakdown of K-5 for Elementary School, 6-8 for Middle School, and 9-12 for High School is working anymore. Instead, I’d like to see all students enter School of Discovery based on mastery at the elementary level. Once they are in the School of Discovery, they are there for at least four years, what we traditionally label as 10th grade. At this point, most students will be anywhere from 14-17 years old. If students are done with their education after School of Discovery, they can go out into the world and work or pursue their dreams.

I know this is a scary thought for some people, but let me briefly explain what high school looks like at my middle-class high school. Currently, the largest number of F’s in the school come from juniors. The majority of these teenagers are done with school at this age. Forcing them to stay in school only creates more difficulties for them and others.

This is one of the biggest issues I have as a high school teacher, and it should be parents’ biggest concern as well. There are students in school who do not want to be there, but are forced to be there by law; since they can’t make their own choices, high school students control what they can: their attitude. They make life miserable for teachers and other students by being disruptive or they take up a lot of a teacher’s time because he or she will try everything to reach the non-performing students. So much time and money goes into these students, and they don’t want to be there. We are fighting a losing battle. Meanwhile, the students who do want to be there are being neglected or have to suffer through the dumbing-down of the curriculum so everyone can succeed. It is the biggest crime in our education system today.

I’m not saying we ignore the non-performing students; we just need to give them other options. Most of these students end up dropping out because school has become irrelevant to their lives. Why not give them a choice? Why not allow them to do the things they want to do, rather than disrupt their classes, or worse yet, become invisible. I am suggesting four options for students after School of Discovery: 1) leave formal education, 2) join a philanthropic experience, 3) enter technology/vocational school, or 4) enter college preparation.

The Philanthropic Experience

For those students who don’t want to continue their formal education but aren’t ready to go out into the world on their own, I’d like to offer them a philanthropic experience. Currently, only students actively involved with their churches have opportunities to have this type of experience. Students can participate in a “missions’ trip” that will concentrate on giving back to their community, whatever that community may be (local or global). This experience would need to be partially self-funded (travel and living expenses, but government can fund the supervision needed for those students). Once they’ve had that experience, they may come back and continue their formal education or have discovered what their path is and pursue that.

College Preparation or Vocational School

If students want to continue with their education, they can take a test to determine where their strengths lie: one track will be a college preparation track, and the other will be a technology/vocational track. If a student wants to be in the college preparation track but didn’t score high enough to get in, that student can continue his or her studies independently (with mentors/tutors) until that student acquires the skills he or she needs to get on that path. If students are truly ready for college preparation, the work done in Advanced Placement classes will truly be advanced; we have far too many students taking AP classes that don’t belong there. The same is true for the technology/vocational path. Students will need to demonstrate knowledge and skills in order to get into this school. Classes will be filled with students who are excited to be there. Regardless of which track students are on, they can decide to move to the other track at any time, after testing into that school.

Giving students choices will change the culture of our schools. I currently have juniors who are failing my class but would thrive in art or wood-tech classes. Instead of feeling like failures and disconnected from their peers, they would feel successful in the company of others like them. In that same class I have students who want to delve into The Scarlet Letter, but instead have to wait patiently while I deal with the shenanigans of students who will do anything to pull the class off topic, necessitating a trimming down of the classic novel. Parents of each category of student should be frustrated by this truth.

No wonder why so many of our high-school graduates are not ready for anything after high school. The current system has made a high-school diploma worthless, and I’m not exaggerating. I recently heard of an insurance company that will only hire college graduates to answer phones in their company. This is an entry level position that used to be perfect for motivated high-school graduates, a position my mother once held 50+ years ago with her high-school diploma. She used it as a stepping-stone to create her own portfolio, becoming successful in the insurance business, without a college degree.

I know to some people, this proposal may seem like a way to separate the “smart” students from the “not-so-smart” students, making this an unfair solution. Please understand, the separation has already happened. We are already labeling students unfairly. In order for true reformation to be effective, it will necessitate an adjustment in the way we think as Americans. We have to stop looking at vocational school as a lesser choice; we have to get rid of the negative labels and encourage students to be the best that they can be at whatever makes them happy. That’s what I hope to do with my proposal: I want to give students choices, which is something they don’t have now.

Education Reformation Blog

What are your thoughts on this proposal?

6 thoughts on “High School Reformation

  1. I totally agree with you! Fortunately I had the opportunity to be enrolled in post-secondary classes at the local community college in 11 and 12th grade. I don’t know that I was challenged, but it kept me out of the h.s. drama and on track because, as you said, I thought I knew it all and was done with high school. Keep it up!!!!

  2. I don’t remember what it was called in Colorado. Where I live its called BOCES. Each county has a BOCES technical high school and 11-12th grade students can go there for part of the day and study a trade, like automotive, outdoor-motor-power, aviation, fashion, early childhood education, cooking. I observed there once it was pretty cool. I followed an english teacher around who would incorporate English into these classes. They also had a mandatory English class that the students had to attend and a lot of them had a lot of trouble there. I would see them do so well in their tech classes and just cower in fear at the thought of writing an essay. Really helped me get a better view of them though, I mean I can easily write an essay, but one day I got a flat and those kids patched my tire, I can’t even put the donut on by myself. The school I was observing also had an excellend graduation rate. They took students with IEP’s and gave them something to look foward to. I often heard many MANY students say “I would never go to school if I was not coming here.”
    And that statement is so powerful.

    What I’m worried about though if we make all school like that is the track system, and how to overcome that. What I’m afraid of if we let some students just completely leave school in order to pursue a technical thing like car repair or childcare or whatever is that we will have students not really doing what they want to be doing. I mean who really figures out what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they are young? They are doing what is expected. And this works out REAL well for upper/middle class students. They go on the college track, Working class students or those from poverty stricken homes or from minority backgrounds may stick to working on cars and other such professions. Which is fine except this is how we keep poor people poor and rich people rich. This is kinda discussed in Waiting for Superman. The truth is that the way we teach now isn’t really effective for students from poor backgrounds or for minorities, the way we address students is not the way they were raised because most teachers are from middle class backgrounds and there is just this disconnect. Its not the content they don’t understand its the way it is presented to them. So they decide to do what their families have always done and take some minimum wage job.

    So I think you have a great idea. I’m just worried that it won’t really solve the gross inequality we have in the education system when it comes to socio-economic status. You say smart from not smart but I’m thinking rich from poor, its white from black and hispanic, which is not as easy to dismiss, its social injustice. It isn’t just based off of money, its based off of expectation and you say that and I agree. I mean there is a fine line between a student making a choice and a student being on a track. I mean one thing I learned at the BOCES school is that someone COULD study fashion and have english, math, science and history become incorporated into that curriculum. They don’t have to have one or the other. They can have both. What is wrong with vocational and traditional schooling being melded together?

  3. Mrs. Hawkins,

    Excellent stuff! I really really enjoyed what you had to say here. In an era of such unprecedented transition on so many levels, we need entrepreneurs of education strategy like you to keep pushing ideas like this.

    Looking back on my time at Liberty, I was that very shenanigan creator you described in classes like Algebra, though hopefully not too much in your class 😉 I do regret those shenanigans now, but I believe my lack of motivation was partially due to the broken system you so adequately describe. In my higher-level math classes, I could see no way the information I was being forced to ingest would ever be relevant to my life. Putting the power in student’s hands through the four options you describe (brilliant, btw!) does relinquish control and that is a scary thing, especially for parents I imagine, but I agree with you that it’s entirely necessary. After all, without the freedom to make their own choices, how can we expect students to be motivated?

    Also, the philanthropic experience option you mentioned literally made me say “heck yes!” out loud at my computer screen. Since leaving the church world, I’ve craved the sorts of powerful learning/life-forming experiences they offer, but without the indoctrination. The mission trip framework is indeed a fantastic avenue for self-discovery. I thoroughly enjoyed this, Mrs. Hawkins! Let me know how I can help push this entire system in any way. Thanks for writing!

    1. Thank you for your feedback and encouragement, Michael! I could see you as the perfect teacher for those philanthropic experiences 🙂 One thing you can do is invite other people into the conversation. The more people we have asking–or demanding a better educational system, the more likely our voices will be heard! Spread the word!

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