Academic journal article High School Journal

HSJ Special Issue Introduction Alternative Schooling(1)

Academic journal article High School Journal

HSJ Special Issue Introduction Alternative Schooling(1)

Article excerpt

Educators and the public must be of two minds when it comes to the design and organization of secondary schooling. One the one hand, there must be a desire to render all schools as relatively homogeneous in structure and purpose as possible; how else to explain the remarkable sameness which characterizes the high school structure whether public or private. Students are still commonly sorted by age grade as they have been for years; pedagogical strategies typically vary only within narrow, well-worn parameters; similar curricular and graduation requirements dominate English, math, science and social studies instruction; and above all there is the obsessive concern with maintaining order and control. In an extensive study, John Goodlad (1984:108) described four observed characteristics of schooling: "First, the vehicle for teaching and learning is the total group. Second, the teacher is the strategic, pivotal figure in the group. Third, the norms governing the group derive primarily from what is required to maintain the teacher's strategic role. Fourth, the emotional tone is neither harsh and punitive nor warm and joyful; it might be described as emotionally flat." When it is found that some students don't respond well to this "one-size-fits-all" mold, the initial response is to ask "What is wrong with those kids?" and then attempt to induce conformity, first through normative appeals, and later if necessary, by coercion. Within this framework "alternative schooling" becomes little more than a euphemism to describe places of detention for the maladaptive and seditious.

On the other hand, educators, and the public appear equally fervent in reciting the cant that each student is a unique individual, differing from his or her classmates in motivation, interests, learning style and rate. The clear implication is that "one-size-fits-few" and, therefore, multiple forms of school organizational structure and process are needed to ensure that each student is provided appropriate opportunities to learn what is necessary to contribute to the public good. One would expect, and is able to find, examples of alternative schools achieving rigorous academic outcomes while simultaneously responding to the diversity of student needs and avoiding the imposition of coercive organizational practices. Such schools are not widespread, however, and are infrequently found among schools serving disadvantaged student populations. Even the most cursory survey reveals that the majority of alternative school programs and practices are designed to remove disruptive students from the regular school, and hopefully to rehabilitate them to rejoin the compliant majority. Despite the rhetoric of accountability, standards, and excellence, it is order and control which dominate in the organization and design of conventional and alternative secondary schooling.

To be sure, there have been no shortage of proposals advanced to restructure the secondary schools. Yet, despite evidence of support for restructuring efforts, somehow the lesson seems to be lost in practice: If secondary students are to become actively engaged participants in their own learning, then it is necessary to shift the emphasis from order and control of student behavior to the construction of meaningful opportunities for students to learn. Perhaps it is apprehension, arising during this age of conservative restoration (Shor, 1986), of being classified as a soft-hearted liberal which prevents a more vigorous and sustained pursuit for academic alternatives. Perhaps it is a generational mistrust of the unleashed passion and energy of youth, as well as nostalgia to preserve the institutions of one's own youth which forestalls change. Or perhaps, it is a heart-felt belief that only by pummeling students and educators with the batons of accountability and standards may they be guided along the path to excellence. Whatever the reasons, educators are well aware that their task is more difficult; that as the country has evolved from an industrial to a service based society, widespread public faith and support for institutions associated with the previous order, schooling included, has significantly eroded. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.