Friday, 25 November 2005

High schools given the high jump?

High schools are "outmoded holding pens which should be abandoned" says Bard High School President Dr Leon Botstein. Students at New York's Bard High School follow the Year 9 and 10 programme, and then instead of the traditional "lost opportunity" -- which is how the US Department of Education described the high school senior year -- they begin uni classes given at the school, working towards an associate degree. It seems to work.

An article by David Kirkpatrick of the US Freedom Foundation points out that:

The problems of secondary education are hardly a new revelation. In "Secondary Education Reform," written in 1976 by A. Harry Passow, high school was described as "the most absurd part of an educational system pervaded by absurdity."

About the same time, a Carnegie Commission on Higher Education report concluded there is so much duplication between the last two years of high school and the first two years of college, that one or two could be eliminated.

Why not? As Kirkpatrick concludes, "As educators who claim to teach critical thinking and problem solving, why can't we think critically and solve some of the problems of conventional schooling?"

Linked article: Is Traditional High School Obsolete?


  1. Good point. It mystifies me how schools "educate" kids for 13 years to produce practically unemployable adults. I skipped the last year of high school and went straight to uni, and I'm doing fine. Craig did the same. From the sounds of it all I missed out on was lying back in the seventh-form lounge most of the day and being allowed to head into town for lunch. And first-year classes are often easier than Year 13.

  2. You used to be able to skip the last year of school by doing yoru 7th form year in the 6th form, ie., skipping the wasted UE year and doing Bursary in the 6th form instead. Is that still an option? I exercised that option myself and took a year off before uni, which I've never regretted -- I did more life-learning that year than in all the bloody years at Colditz, which is how we lovingly described our school.

  3. I did Bursary in 5th and 6th form, partly to avoid NCEA. I suppose it is still an option to do Level 3 NCEA early, but some schools don't like students getting ahead of the curriculum. NCEA was intended to be more flexible but often it isn't the case. I was lucky, I had friends in high places :-) I think Craig got into uni on the basis of high polytech marks, without Level 3, so I guess that's another option.

    Schools wrap students in bureaucracy and cotton wool. No freedom = no responsibility = irresponsible behaviour.

  4. There is a huge amount of merit in this, I found Bursary significantly harder work than 1st and 2nd year Arts courses (but not law), and while 7th form was fun, it would have been better spending a year getting rid of those easy 1st year courses, and getting used to being around girls again :)

  5. I have often heard the 7th form year called the 'social year'. Sport, piss-ups and a year of fun at the folk's expense before having to go and find a job.

    In my day it was strictly for the small minority the would go on to uni- they actually needed to do bursary.

  6. Bolstein takes the stance that high school and junior high is really a waste of time, and is utterly useless. He contends that people can and would benefit more from being let free some time after they turn 16, and that job training or service would be more beneficial. He is adamant that high school exists only to “hold young adults back well beyond the developmental point for which high school was originally designed.” He believes that “[Adults] don’t like adolescents and that [adults] have used high school to isolate the pubescent and hormonally active adolescent away from both the picture-book idealized inoocence of childhood and the more accountable world of adulthood.” Bolstein seems to be missing the point of schooling, and this has caused his warped view of the educational system.

    The first important step in arguing that high school is worth while or not, is to define the reasons that schooling is in place. Our school system was modeled after the Prussian school system before World War II, and thus has the same core values in place. This system has been set up to make students who are generally the same, and thus easy to manage. This kind of schooling creates a society that is much easier to exist in, and much more capable of living together. This is much more important than having a better education, as people interacting is what keeps the world working. Schooling is meant to be both a separation time and a real life “test.” Those who are able to pass a specific level of schooling are then able to prove that they meet a certain criteria, such as the ability to work in groups or are able to follow directions. These kinds of benchmarks are necessary for a business or society to know how well you “fit in” to the ideals and needs of a society. School systems are constantly worked over by those who are part of businesses, and thus are geared toward their wants and needs, therefore and easy way to classify people strengths or achievements is achieved through schooling.

    If schooling is examined under this lens, then it is easy to see that high school is not obsolete. High school is the point where people learn the most about interacting with others in a variety of situations. While many people argue that the social groups will cause people to feel left out or even cause arguments, it is much more important that people learn to interact with others in these tense situations. The ability to perform their jobs under circumstances like these will come up later in life, when people at work have social groups or social hierarchies. So is high school really all that obsolete?

  7. I think that althouhg Botstein makes some good points about the last two years of high school he is also missing some key points. HE is right that some of the information is repeated in both high school and college. He is also correct that the last year of high school is mainly that of a blow off year. But the groups of high school help delvelop individuals. They may not all become the leaders of today but they do learn how to work as a team, how to get things done togethor. Also I do not fel that at the age 16 a teenager is able to be put out in to the real world ready to work.

  8. Erik/deat, you said, "The first important step in arguing that high school is worth while or not, is to define the reasons that schooling is in place. Our school system was modeled after the Prussian school system before World War II, and thus has the same core values in place."

    With that you point out precisely the nature of the game. Public school as it is at present is primarly ~not~ about education, but is instead about inculcating the state's chosen values in youngsters, just as you describe, and just as happened in Prussia. These "lost opportunity years" are in too many cases little more than holding pens for indoctrination.

    Allowing students to either start work, begin an apprenticeship, or "begin uni classes given at the school, working towards an associate degree" seems to me an ideal way to sidestep the indoctrination. [NB: Anonymous/Jim, you might note that at the age 16 a teenager is very well able to be put out in to the real world ready to work, but that is not a requirement off Botstein's suggestion -- you will notice that Botstein himself advocates beginning uni classes at school.]


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