Motivating Gifted, Defiant, and Unconvinced Students to Succeed at the John Dewey Academy

By Bratter, Thomas E.; Bratter, Carole J. et al. | Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Motivating Gifted, Defiant, and Unconvinced Students to Succeed at the John Dewey Academy


Bratter, Thomas E., Bratter, Carole J., Coiner, Nancy L., Kaufman, Danielle S., Steiner, Kenneth M., Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry


The John Dewey Academy (JDA) provides intensive instruction for bright troubled and troublesome teens who need residential treatment. In its 20-year history, all graduates have attended colleges of quality, and more than 70% complete at least their secondary education. This article describes the primary guiding principles that have produced positive results unrivaled by other special purpose schools and residential treatment centers for adolescents who are not amenable to traditional approaches.

Keywords: unconvinced and unmotivated adolescents; residential treatment for youth; drug-free; confrontation

The John Dewey Academy is a voluntary, residential, college preparatory, and therapeutic high school. Dewey (1899, 1902, 1936), who proclaimed the goal of self-renewal, identified three kinds of growth-intellectual, emotional, and moral. Expanding Dewey's thoughts, this Academy enlarges the curriculum from the traditional three "r's" (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic) to ten: respect, reality, responsibility, reason, relevance, research, reciprocation, resilience, reverence, and reform.

When feeling empowered, students are more likely to respect teachers, others, and themselves (Bratter, Bratter, & Bratter, 1998). When teachers are responsive, passionate, and committed to active learning, they inspire students to want to learn. Classer (1969, pp. 23-24) suggested students "need teachers who . . . will encourage them to make a value judgment [about] . . . behavior, . . . who will not excuse them when they fail, . . . who will work with them . . . as they commit and recommit until they finally . . . fill a commitment . . . so . . . they gain maturity, respect, love, and a successful identity."

Until students shatter restricting boundaries of innocence and ignorance of immature thinking, learning has no meaning. In view of the rapid pace of technological advances, education prepares students to cope with change because no one and nothing remains homeostatic; it must help them gain the resilience needed to endure inevitable stress, failure, rejection, fear, and pain.

At JDA, students learn to think analytically and to communicate those thoughts verbally and in writing. Gardner (1991) asserts that the acquisition of problem-solving skills is more important than the regurgitation of facts. Bratter (1983) condemned the rigid atmosphere of the five "c's" (competition, care, custody, conformity, and control) of traditional education and substitutes seven (choice, cooperation, change, community, civility, constructive criticism, and creative communication). Fromm (1976, pp. 28-29) criticized rote learning in traditional education. He said "students . . . will listen to a lecture [in order to] . . . pass an examination . . . The students and the content of lectures remain strangers . . . except that each student has become the owner of a collection of statements made by someone else."

Bratter (1974, 1975, 1977a, in press) wrote after Dewey students produce quality work, their therapists and teachers become advocates to convince colleges to them, even though their grades and standardized test scores are not competitive. Bratter and Parker (1994, 1995) described valuable contributions that justify colleges of quality to admit recovering students.

MORAL EDUCATION: TEACHING VALUES

The Academy's value system traces its origins to the Judeo-Christian and Puritan heritage that prizes honor, integrity, honesty, decency, excellence, sincerity, and respect for one's self and others. Kilpatrick (1992, pp. 225-226) contended that "the core problem [for contemporary education] . . . is a moral one . . . Attempts at school reform are unlikely to succeed unless character education is put at the top of the agenda . . . The primary way to bring ethics and character back into schools is to create a positive moral environment . . . The ethos of a school, not its course offerings, is the decisive factor in forming character.

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