Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Editor's Page - outside the Big-School Box

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Editor's Page - outside the Big-School Box

Article excerpt

SCHOOL SIZE is one of the major issues that this month's Kappan addresses. And I think I know a little about that topic from experiences up-close and personal.

I grew up in a Minnesota village that could have served as the prototype for Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. There were just over 70 students in my graduating class, and many of us had been attending school together since first grade. Our years of shared experiences yielded close friendships that continue to this day. (Most of us still attend our class reunions, where we reminisce about such things as dyeing yards and yards of cheesecloth in a teacher's bathtub in order to fashion a fake ceiling in the gym for our junior prom.) My small high school offered lots of opportunities for leadership in extracurricular activities. After all, we had the usual number of such activities and a paucity of students to carry them out.

The teachers knew each of us well; they also knew our families - which we didn't always see as a plus. There were other, more serious disadvantages too. We had only one science teacher to cover all the bases: biology, physics, chemistry. Ditto for math (and our math teacher spent part of her time as librarian in the school/community library). Foreign languages? Forget the plural. We had only two years of Latin available to us, taught by the redoubtable S. Marie Thoene, who had also taught many of our parents.

My own children were schooled in quite a different environment. My firstborn, for example, graduated with a class of 575 from a high school that served close to 2,500 students. At the graduation ceremony for her class, she watched youngsters march across the stage whom she had never seen before.

Her large high school gave her access to advanced courses in all the sciences and to four years of study in any one of several foreign languages. But, despite a 4.0 grade-point average in her junior year, she did not make the National Honor Society. …

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