Creating a Better High School - Part 1

       This is the first in a three-part series that will look at the structures in place in our current high schools that don't make sense or are not needed anymore.  I want to think about the best way that students learn and create a high school that will serve these learners.  I also want to think about the true purpose of high schools in our time.  My goal isn't to imagine a "High School of the Future", but instead to consider what can realistically be done today.  As always, I encourage my readers to add their thoughts and ideas.  Together we can create the high school that our students want and need today.

Create a Better High School

Part 1 - Current school structures that aren't necessary anymore.
Part 2 - How students learn and how schools can react to these learners.
Part 3 - The purpose of high school

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Current School Structures that Aren't Necessary Anymore

       There's this "joke" about schools that educators don't find funny at all.  The joke says that Rip Van Winkle sleeps for 100 years.  When he wakes up, he walks around town and notices everything is different.  The grocery store, the cars, the roads, the clothes people wear,...everything.  Then he comes to a school and walks in and sees a classroom and he smiles and says, "Finally, something that looks familiar to me."  (Don't laugh.  Not funny.)

       People like "familiar".  People tend to resist change.  But do you really want a doctor who only uses medical knowledge from 1920?  Do you want an ice box instead of a refrigerator?  Do you want a rotary phone instead of a smart phone?  Why do we welcome these changes and resist changes to our schools?  

       Mr. Van Winkle recognized the student desks in neat rows and the teacher's desk in the front of the room.  He recognized the chalkboard on the front wall.  If he happened to visit while school was in session, he would see all students arrive at school at the same time and leave at the same time.  He might have recognized the students moving from class to class every 45 minutes; carrying textbooks and pencils and notebooks.  During classes, he might have recognized the teacher verbally teaching--doing most or all of the talking--while the students took notes and listened to the teacher.  If he stayed for a few days or a few weeks, he might see the teacher giving written tests and returning assignments with grades on them.  He would see report cards.

       I want to think about basic school structures and think about if they are still the best way to conduct a high school in the 21st century.  Here's my short list:

  • Why does high school have to start at 7:30am?
  • Why do all classrooms have a "front"?
  • Why do teachers do most of the talking?
  • Why are desks in rows and pointing in the same direction?
  • Why do we use individual students desks?
  • Why do we use grades to measure knowledge?
  • Why do all students learn the same thing at the same time?
  • Why do textbooks constitute the "primary source" of content?
  • Why four years?
       Do these structures produce the results we want?  Do these structures "work" for most of our students?  It's not that I don't like structure.  We have a lot of students and a lot of instruction in a lot of content areas to provide to them.  Structure of some sort is probably necessary.  But does it have to be these structures--the same basic structures that we've had in high schools for a hundred years?  Is there a better way to use the tools of education that we have today to help our students of today to prepare for their futures of tomorrow?

       Most or all of the items on my list are not part of SOME high schools (or some classes in some high schools) today.  So this isn't a futuristic view of what high schools could be--these things are happening today in some small way in many of our high schools.  But should these structures change for all of our high schools?  And what will be the new structures for high schools?


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