Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why Families Should Be Attracted to a Lyceum in the United States

Culture. In a word, that's why families should prefer lyceums to high schools. In two words, school culture.

I have criticized American high school culture in several other posts, including yesterday's. By contrast, the culture of a lyceum is serious, and is focused on academic success, to the near exclusion of everything else. This is the atmosphere one finds on the campuses of secondary schools of nations around the world that are leading in student attainment and student achievement, an atmosphere missing even from some of America's most elite high schools, and clearly missing from the environments of relatively successful high school campuses in privileged suburban communities like Irvine, California, where I live.

Many Asian immigrant families flock to Irvine and to similar communities around the United States, repeating in their residential choices the patterns established in their home countries. Many of these families lack the English and the cultural knowledge necessary to properly evaluate the schooling their children are receiving. If they had the wherewithal necessary to make these evaluations, they would know how overrated the schools their children are attending are, and might well feel cheated. And the American residents of these communities, who see high scores on the easy tests given to our children, also rest in an unwarranted cocoon of comfort. Wait till their children apply for college, or until they experience their freshmen years once inside, if they have to face real international competition, especially in mathematics or a science: a rude awakening from that comfort is coming.

A lyceum exists only to prepare students for the baccalaureate examination that looms at the end of its three-year term (the best French lycees also offer post-baccalaureate instruction for which they are particularly famous, but I think our top students would be better off on our best university campuses than they would be inside any dungeon-like prepas institutions). In France this is the baccalaureat, in Germany the Abitur, in Switzerland the Matura: these examinations go by different names, but in all cases they coordinate secondary school leaving and tertiary entrance standards, minimize disjunctions, and maximize the likelihood of student success once these young people leave their secondary schools and enter adulthood, something we are doing a poor job of. But the serious school culture that makes this higher standard of learning achievable is unlikely to flourish in America unless it pays off in a qualification that justifies all the hard work spent with a clear advantage over those unwilling to work as hard; and our current college admissions policies do not reward hard work so much as they favour a compact between established legacy privilege and the alleviation of inherited upper class guilt via charity towards youthful members of groups historically discriminated against. But the easing of the guilty consciences of the historically advantaged is no sound basis for a social policy, whereas establishing a lyceum like One World Lyceum could fundamentally change the culture of American secondary schooling.

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