Monday, August 22, 2011

Eliminate Grades 9 and 10

Most self-exclusion (defined in my last post) occurs in grades 9 and 10. We all acknowledge this as a problem. I suggest we solve it by blowing up these two grades, at least as commonly conceived.

But our kids have to go through these middle teen years; we can't just put them to sleep for two years, and wait for them to mature a bit more. What to do?

My vision of an ideal educational system, providing world-wide mobility and including worker qualifications, and towards which we are already moving (although I suspect few in America are conscious of this at this point), is to provide our children with nine years of high quality, basic, comprehensive education of the kind common in the Nordic countries; to make the tenth year also compulsory, though not necessarily in a comprehensive school; to require (as under new Australian legislation) that the eleventh year be also compulsory unless the teenager (now aged 16-17) is already working; and to make the 18th year also free and non-selective, at least somewhere inside the school system; but I would not require, and do not envision, a single path for all beyond that ninth school year.

Therefore the system, with multiple paths, would look like this for the ten years of compulsory education: a single comprehensive primary school organized at the municipal level (think Helsinki, although I think we should start at age six or earlier, not seven as in Finland); three-year middle schools providing single-sex education, like those I saw in Korea, although more attractive and better resourced (that accounts for ninth grade); and then a split, with roughly half of the students electing to attend (coeducational) upper secondary schools providing general academic education preparing for universities, and the other half (or so) electing vocational secondary schools like those in Japan, and through them acquiring apprenticeships like those in Germany and in similar systems in and around the German speaking world (that accounts for grade ten).

No more mindless following of the bells and the herd into high school! And no immature shenanigans like running the halls from authority figures in the utterly disconnected, artificial, distracting world of the traditional American high school (try to explain, to non-Americans, having young people spend thousands of hours practicing for putting on attractive, sexually exaggerated [cheerleader, drill team, or football] uniforms and then marching to music while twirling a baton, while nearly simultaneously being told that they should abstain from sexual activity and instead should study so as to secure good futures for themselves; try to explain the logic of cash-strapped schools funding such distractions, and see if you can keep from feeling foolish). Just imagine, educators being able to go back to educating, instead of herding cats who thrill to the mischief-making of teasing the man while precious time, money, opportunities, and lives are lost. There has to be a better way; we need higher schools.

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