High Schools

October 31, 2007 at 5:49 pm Leave a comment

At the book sale the other day I picked up an “advance reading copy” (the book has since been published) of Edward Humes’ School of Dreams. It’s a thought-provoking look into a premiere high school (actually grades 7-12) in California and the students, parents, and teachers that make up its population. We’re talking a seriously elite, high-achieving, high-stakes school here. All of the kids go to college, most to Ivy League schools. You have to apply and meet qualifications to even attend. To someone who grew up with a more intellectual mindset than many of her peers, the school sounds pretty appealing – but there’s an obvious dark side. The pressure to succeed, and the reliance on tests and name-brand universities, isn’t all that great for kids.

There’s a war going on in my head, a war of educational philosophy. On the one hand, I like a sense of order, and I love statistics. I get a real kick out of plugging the grades into DR’s electronic gradebook and seeing how they affect the final total, seeing how a student’s grade changes as time goes by. Mmm… stats. But on the other hand – and increasingly so as I read this sort of book – I’m kind of a tree-hugging hippy sort of teacher. I am not sure I understand, or have ever understood, the value of a test. I am not sure I understand the value of grades. Assessment, yes – of course you have to have assessment and evaluation, or it’s not teaching. But do tests measure actual knowledge? Do grades reflect actual progress? Or are we simply measuring which kids have the best memories, the best cheating strategies, the best tutors, the best ability to cram, the best ability to follow directions?

I digress. I started this post because I wanted to share a segment from the book. May not read exactly like you have it if you have an officially printed copy, but this is what I’ve got:

Parents very often have no idea what life is like in an American high school today; their own high school journeys of twenty or thirty years ago might as well have been a century earlier. Their experience is utterly divorced from their children’s, these schools of the Internet and chat rooms and sexual imagery everywhere, of junk-food lunches and Starbucks dinners and laughable television ads beamed into every classroom, telling kids that buying pot supports terrorism and that cola should be their drink of choice and that one big, cool adventure is waiting for them right around the corner if they would only join the “life accelerator” and sign up for four years with the U.S. Navy. High School today is perpetually in motion and, contrary to what so many students and teachers say, never boring. What governmental or social endeavor is more vital? Does anything that goes on in Pentagon war rooms or corporate boardrooms, hospital operating rooms or White House conference rooms, have a greater impact on our nation’s future and potential and dreams than what goes on in a classroom? And yet the tools we have to measure and understand this most important of institutions, this haven for our most precious commodity, are hopelessly inadequate: the test scores, the SAT averages, the graduation rates and college acceptances and PTA meetings and legislative studies give only the faintest of caricatures of what Whitney High School, or any high school, is really like (194-5).

Tell it, brother!


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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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