on Middle Level Education
It is not
often that faculty authorize a Dean to speak for them, but I am
representing the adolescent education faculty and Department chairs
of St. John’s University’s School of Education to address one
of the most critical issues in American education today—what to
do about our middle schools.
While peer pressure
has the bodies of our middle school children and pop culture has
their minds, there is little to suggest ways of recapturing our
children from both of these often negative influences. There are
all too compelling reasons middle school young people choose NOT
to succeed. Every child has to be treated differently at this
age. Middle schools must be caring places that attract people;
in this case not only the children but their families.
We need a strong,
clearly defined statement on middle schools that articulates the
difference between this stop along the learning path and the high
school model that too frequently becomes the structure under which
middle schools operate, by default. Alfred North Whitehead reminded
us decades ago of the “romance” permeating the child’s desire
to learn “precisely.” The word “wonder” which this learned mathematician/philosopher
used to try to describe a child’s education culminated in his
famous statement...”cursed be the dullard who destroys wonder.”
We should address:
the difference between current junior high schools and a revolutionary
middle school approach, how to create a structure that provides
room for instructional teaming, and the kind of fascinating interdisciplinary
work with literacy as its base that will enable children to comprehend
what they are reading and to apply both thinking and feeling skills
to the acquisition of knowledge relevant to their future.
from a definition of middle schools based on overpopulation, and
where any combination of grades 5-9 suffices as the base for a
middle school, we should admit that our main problem with middle
schools is that, organizationally, most do not make sense. Nor
are current school buildings, designed for other combinations
of grades, adequate to the task of providing facilities for a
learning style setting appropriate to middle school age youngsters.
We should address the kind and quality of facilities we need to
support a true middle school concept.
For much the same
reason we must rid ourselves of the idea that fifth graders are
adolescents (again, to compensate for too many children in elementary
schools) and focus our energies on a combination of 6th through
9th grades that makes sense in a given community.
Finally, the middle
school should be a place of refuge for children who get into trouble
from the close of school until 8PM, on weekends and in summers,
where excellent teacher/social worker/heath professional mentoring
takes place Where there are some good models across the nation
they should be studied. There are more than a few where the opportunities
of the 21st century are being used fully and where school becomes
a place for children to look toward the realization of their natural
aspirations to succeed in a changing world. These are happy places
in what can be an unhappy period of a child’s life. We owe our
children this happiness, this romance with education, this freedom
to escape to learning, this discipline born of response to the
child’s current and future needs.#
Ross, Ph.D. is the Dean of Education at St. John’s University
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