Precocious Precognition: Targeting Tomorrow's University Researchers in Today's Middle Schools

Article excerpt

As Carnegie-classified research "intensive" and research "extensive" institutions plan to prepare for long-term status sustainability, targeting the intellectual capital in middle schools should be considered as a national educational partnership between the K-12 sector and higher education. This partnership initiative is suggested at a time when many members of the professorate are retiring over the coming decade.

Two compelling demographic shifts in pre-collegiate and post-secondary education provide the genesis for this discussion precis. First, most of the enrollment growth in American schools in the next several decades will manifest at the elementary and middle school levels. Second, nearly half of the American professorate is projected to retire between 2000-2010 at a time when "fewer and fewer persons, especially highly talented young students are opting for academic careers," according to Bowen and Schuster (1986), American Professors. This social and economic phenomenon presents a timely and vigilant opportunity for both the K-12 and higher education sectors to develop systemic synergism and strategically plan for producing tomorrow's scholarly researchers in today's middle schools. This critical coaction has future implications for the early foundation-building of intellectual capital for the nation's future research capacity and scholarly capability. Braskamp and Wergin (1998) in The Responsive University:

   Higher education today has an opportunity unique in its history to
   contribute to our society. Institutions of post-secondary education and
   their faculties are expected to become part of these partnerships and offer
   their creativity, knowledge, and analytical problem-solving skills. To some
   this is a new development. But in truth, the work of faculties has never
   existed in a vacuum. Their current research emphasis, for example, is due
   in part to past national priorities on defense and engineering. The problem
   is that today's priorities are different. External audiences are asking for
   a different kind of social relevance for higher education: They are asking
   it to enhance K-12 education and to better prepare the young for work among
   other demands. The academy will benefit by recognizing the depth of this
   concern ... (p. 63)

In Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Ernest Boyer (1990) earlier warned, "linkages between the campus and contemporary problems must be strengthened" (p. 76). Boyer's conceptualization of the challenge, implicitly focuses on two paradoxical core elements for systemic evolution, strategic planning and educational development in the pre-collegiate and post-secondary sectors. The challenge is: who will supersede those who are now charged with fostering creativity and analysis in basic, applied, and action research at our premier "extensive" and "intensive" research institutions? The elements of "partnership" and "research" are at the center of discussion in this precis and collaterally serve as the driving points for "precocious precognition" among the nation's middle schools and research universities. The first middle school was developed in 1950 in Bay City, Michigan; however, the growth of the movement began in the 1960s, at a time when most of the nation's current aging faculty were entering the professoriate as young academicians. The middle school is a pivotal level for the early identification of future research skills and this level of learning should be the primary provenance for the future recruitment of students to the academic enterprise. In addition to the use of interdisciplinary themes in math, science, language arts and social studies, and the developmental characteristics of youth, this school-level promotes an "exploratory" curriculum, and "discovery" through a "common wheel" of intellectual experiences. Typical adolescent characteristics are highlighted in Table A by the National Middle School Association in the work of Allen and Stevens (1998) in Middle Grades Social Studies. …