LET'S TALK TEACHING
The Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education has announced that the district will undertake an examination of our middle school program. Like people in the education community nationwide, our Board is seeking to understand why it is that students in general do better in elementary and often in high school than they do in middle school, at least as academic accomplishments are measured by standardized tests.
Much of the national discussion about middle schools appears to focus on affective issues. Thus we hear people talking and writing about the need to educate "the whole child." At a recent public meeting of our Board of Education, one of our middle school principals spoke of how the focus of our middle schools is on "the emotional education of our students."
Just about absent from the middle school muddle created by the educationist gurus of our time is any serious discussion of what we might do to challenge the intellects of our students by creating courses that promote the acquisition of the information educated adults are expected to know and the ability to use that information to think logically and imaginatively about the issues that confront us as human beings living in the twenty-first century. Might it just be possible that students lose some interest at the middle school level because the decision makers of their schools are more interested in their emotional education (whatever that is, if in fact, it is anything) than they are in helping students learn to think analytically about the world in which they live from some reasonable knowledge base that informs their thoughts?
I for one hope that as we take a look at our middle school program, we give serious thought to turning our teachers loose to teach, not because we are concerned about our studentsí results on the high stakes tests they are now required to take, but because what we are trained to do is teach, and because we have an abiding belief that we possess a body of knowledge that our students need to know. That is not to say that we should be unconcerned about the emotional issues students of this age confront. It is to say, however, that we have severely underestimated the importance of addressing the intellects of our students and overestimated our ability to spare these young people the emotional pains of early adolescence. It may even be that the best relief from these pains is a mind engaged in challenging academic work. Humans have for ages sought to take their minds off their troubles.
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