Friday, June 3, 2011

Comprehensive High School RIP!?

When I began this blog, I wanted to showcase some of my successes with promoting the strategic use of technology. I'm a Library media specialist, my career satisfaction depends on working with teachers to improve learning outcomes.

I have spent the last 10 years serving as a Library Media Specialist in comprehensive high schools, but I am now moving on. I have worked in 3 very different schools, each one had its strengths and weaknesses, but each was fundamentally flawed in its basic operating assumptions. For each of my jobs, I tried very hard to integrate myself into the faculty of the school and develop relationships towards helping students develop 21st Century skills. While I'm proud of the work I did, I am left with the feeling that I was ultimately unsuccessful.

My next job will be at a New Tech High School in Dallas ISD. It's everything I want in a school: a small cohesive staff with low student-teacher ratio, a solid instructional model that involves students in thought-provoking projects, and an overall emphasis on vital outcomes such as creativity, teamwork, and critical thinking.

Comprehensive High Schools provide the opposite. The structure of the school inhibits real teamwork among teachers of different subjects. The institution is generally large and impersonal, and the main emphasis is on grades and credits granted by teachers as opposed to student outputs. Often the work needed to earn grades and credits in mindless, irrelevant stuff that discourages deep thinking and creativity.

Why is it not possible to reform the comprehensive high school? I have my theories. One time when I was sitting in a curriculum meeting at my previous job, I realized that I was the only one in the room that did not have mostly warm, fuzzy memories of high school. In other words, I was the only one that was actively working to provide students with a drastically different high school experience than I myself had back in the 1980's. The others where emotionally invested in doing the opposite, providing light academics while emphasizing the traditions of high school: letter jackets, athletics, dances, etc. At the very heart of the old high school tradition, is a bias towards not working the kids to hard, so they can enjoy their adolescence. Sizer's brilliant analysis in Horace's Compromise, written back when I was in high school, is still true today. That's not to say that all of the teachers I worked with were this way, but the exceptions were a small minority.

So, in a nutshell, I'm done with trying to reform the beast from within. I look forward to the day when all high schools offer are exciting, vibrant places where students and teachers feel connected to the institution and the youthful energy is channeled towards productive ends instead of creating a feeling of being a rat on wheel until graduation. Yes, I'm still an idealist, but a slightly more realistic one.

1 comment:

  1. So sorry to see you leave since you were a point man for us, not afraid to blaze ahead with your vision. It takes more than a moment in time to turn the Titanic around. Regarding, "Often the work needed to earn grades and credits in mindless, irrelevant stuff that discourages deep thinking and creativity," it's the shrewd instructor who is not afraid to cast his bread upon the waters then wait to see what comes back. I will miss you. Cristina