Two of the major pastimes in America, other than drinking beer and sitting in major league baseball stadiums cherishing illusions about a winning season, are wondering what went amiss with our automakers in Detroit and what went wrong with secondary education. And all we ever come up with is . . . the Japanese. That's a nation, we believe, where cars never fail and kids stay up all night mastering computer programs.
The American concerned citizen (ACC) has never-ending advice for teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards. Which, when the smoke clears, amounts to a simple sentiment: "Shape up!" Which educators put into a more benign context, like "doubtless the system could benefit from some reformations."
The general thought is that if American high school students don't buckle down pretty soon and get serious about math and computers, it's going to be all over. We won't be "competitive." The Japanese will run right over us with their computers and, if necessary, with their flawlessly engineered automobiles.
But what examples from history do we have to verify any of this? Have you talked to an American high school student lately? I think you'll confront highly informed, articulate, well-rounded, socially articulate, environmentally conscious, politically aware young adults. And this being America, I think we expect a lot more of them than to be simply computer literate and competitive. That wouldn't be much of a goal at the conclusion of 20 or so years in our program of national education.
K-12: Captive Audience
From kindergarten through high school graduation, we've had a captive audience. If our young graduates do not fully measure up to everything we might have imagined, it is more a fault of our planning and curriculum. It's not like we asked our students to plan their own agenda of learning and then faulted them for its weakness. We are in charge of the lessons that are conveyed.
And in America we also have a high level of belief in all the miscellaneous and informal events that surround formal education. Which is why we believe in field trips, exchange programs, summers abroad, guest speakers, audiovisual props, visits to museums, and summer camps. And all the unique events planned by families to enhance and broaden classroom instruction.
But even with all of this, we have put a large - perhaps too large - burden on our teachers to provide such an ambitious backdrop of instruction and insight. If there is one prediction I know I am safe in making, it is that in the next century high schools are going to be linked in ways now typical of higher education. More electronic links, more sharing of resources, a larger comparing of notes between school districts, and perhaps faculty migration from one institution to another, a pattern so typical of higher education and necessary for its well-being.
There is probably no intellectual isolation greater than that of the typical American high school. With 2,000 students, administrators, staff, and faculty, cafeterias and gymnasiums, sports programs, bands and orchestras, clubs, year-books, and radio and television stations, these are entities that are capable of the same intellectual agitation and ferment typical of our colleges; and small universities. That this is presently so is attributable to their isolation. We don't think of junior and senior high school as being in the larger learning loop at all. But things are happening independently of one another that suggest useful departure from our habits.
The Public Broadcasting Service has engaged in a pilot program that will result in a student magazine that intends to take current affairs seriously. In March, PBS intends to create a computerized magazine called HiWavz, making use of multimedia technology.
The project calls for PBS and 16 affiliate stations to involve 21 high schools in writing news stories, features, columns, movie and television reviews, sports articles, and editorials. …