Notes for Adolescents and the Schools
School of Family and Consumer Sciences 400.404/504    Instructor: D. Witt

The Functions of Secondary Education:

  • Instruction in marketable skills / Intellectual Development
  • Communication of the values and morals of the culture
  • Successful acculturation of all students
  • Fostering of personal/social development
  • Practical skills - sex education, Drivers ed., homemaking classes, shop, relationship building
These are all good goals to have.

From your textbook's instructor's manual. Compulsory education was instituted throughout the United States between 1890 and 1920 - including  standard curricula, vocational courses, and citizenship as a subject to be taught. Later classes in areas such as music, physical education, and sports broadened the curriculum have been added and taken away as local funding varies. U.S. Educators follow numerous strategies to promote learning:
  • Direct instruction approach—founded in applied behavior analysis, teachers use directed, mastery learning strategies;
  • Cognitive constructivist approach—following a Piagetian theoretical foundation, teachers prompt students to take an active role in constructing a knowledge base;
  • Social constructivist approach—based on Vygotsky’s theoretical orientation, students collaborate to construct a solid foundation of knowledge;
  • Learner-centered principles— learner-centered principles and cognitive, motivational, social, and individual factors, students rather than teachers are central figures.
The Carnegie Council proposed core social policy for improving adolescent education by creating learning environments that promote learning communities, curriculum standards, academic success, effective school personnel, student health, family involvement, and community-wide resources.  Students making a transition from grade school to middle school, and then to senior high have both stressful experiences and beneficial outcomes. Students experience the top-dog phenomenon as they move from top to bottom positions between grade schools and middle schools. School changes provide students with the opportunity to gradually shift toward personal independence and responsibility. Fewer transitions, increased involvement in extracurricular activities, high-quality friendships, and parent support are correlated with good student adjustment and high self-esteem. Successful middle schools create settings that provide personal attention, involve parents, support rigorous instruction, and promote student health. Many high school graduates are ill prepared for college or the workplace. Educators believe that high schools need a new mission to better prepare students.

  • Circumventing normal transition periods by dropping out of high school often leads to poor employment opportunities. Graduation rates are as low as 10 percent for Native Americans and 50 percent for minorities in cities. Adolescents drop out due to academic, economic, and personal-social reasons. Reducing dropout rates depends on personalized guidance through academic, social, cultural, and recreational activities throughout the school years.
  • The transition to college or employment may be less stressful due to improved relationships with parents. The transition from high school to college can be facilitated best with personalized assistance from high school counselors and college representatives.
  • The social context of school changes as children go from preschool to elementary school to the secondary level. School characteristics appear to have both short- and long-term influences on students.
Some other strategies on education:
  • Students in smaller schools demonstrate more prosocial behavior; large schools may influence anonymity and reduce personal responsibility.
  • The authoritative strategy of classroom management encourages students to be independent yet cooperative and cognizant of classroom expectations.
  • The authoritarian strategy of class management encourages compliant, passive learners.
  • The permissive strategy of classroom management provides autonomy, but little structure for students learning self-control and academic skills.
  • School climates that project self-efficacy and positive expectations for students appear to have overall beneficial effects on academic performance and achievement.
  • The aptitude-treatment interaction between student characteristics and classroom environments require adjustments to promote optimal learning.

Criticisms of U.S. Public Education

We don't teach the way we think.
Remember Information processing? attention-perception-memory-thinking-problem solving

My experience in public school was one long lecture, filled with facts, almost totally devoid of a guiding philosophy, with very little in the way of principles or development of skills. Of course I was young at the time and may not have developed the ability to understand the subtext.

Here's an example from my 7th grade Texas history supplemental text (circa 1963).

    While we did have a real textbook, we all got most of our Texas History from a little pamphlet entitled "Texas History Movies" (Patton & Rosenfield, 1928). Note the blatant racism in just two frames! Recently all the racism was removed from the treatise and reissued!

Accountability: The current debate over the demonstrated ability of public education to transmit valid academic skills is filled with invidious comparisons and faulty logic, which we'll get to in time.
Another part of the bad news is that, once the functions are agreed to, we don't teach the way human beings really think.

My experience in public school was one long, 12 year lecture, filled with facts, but almost totally devoid of guiding philosophy, logical underpinnings, with very little in the way of principles or development of skills.

Here's this very imaginative kid (little Davy) who hungers for a taste of life, being asked to color in a map of South America for 55 minutes. One day I would visit Brazil, and let me tell you, it is not burnt orange in color.

Or practice spelling tests - With the entire 5th grade at the ready, Mrs. Wiest would stroll around the room, carrying this week's spelling words, and read off each word four times - s-l-o-w-l-y.
De-cap-i-tate (pausing, looking) |
    It was possible for me to have 16 full blown, completely technicolor fantasies
De-cap-i-tate (pausing, looking) |
    by the time Ms, Wieste) got to the fourth iteration of the first word!
De-cap-i-tate (pausing, looking) |
    And we had two of these every week without fail.

This is mind-numbing - This is mindless - This is disrespectful of the student! All this is to illustrate the typical traditional classroom which was structured and rigid, with teacher in the front of the class directing small actions and students facing teacher, essentially taking dictation. And it is very much alive today.
Research shows that most class time is spent with

      1. a teacher lecturing students taking notes - passive involvement
      2. students working at their desks on written assignments - a waste of instructor resources
      3. test taking - a false assurance that cheating won't occur
      4. passing in the halls - rather than have a small number of teachers move, all the students have to.
In a typical middle/high school, out of a typical 7 hour day in school students spend about:
  • 30 minutes for passing between classes
  • 30 minutes to settle down when arriving
  • 30 minutes to get ready to leave for the next class
  • 60 minutes passing/taking up/going over homework
  • 100 minutes working at the desk/being tested
  • 55 minutes of study hall
  • 25 minutes for lunch
  • Which leaves 90 minutes for teaching a day!
So, from 7th to the 12th grade students have spent approximately:
  • 7,560 hours in school
  • 540 hours passing between classes
  • 1080 hours fiddling around at the beginning and ending of classes
  • 1080 hours dealing with the administration of homework
  • 1800 hours working at their desks or being tested
  • 990 hours in study hall
  • 754 hours at lunch
  • and a whopping 16220 hours in face to face instruction and this doesn't include things like homeroom, assemblies, and fire drills.
In terms of curriculum, the American educational system uses the Inoculation Theory of Education (Postman and Weingartner, 1969: 21 - Teaching As a Subversive Activity). English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not music. This means that education sees each subject as a distinct and solitary discipline, which isn't true. It wasn't until college that I took a course entitled the History of the English Language. Art and Music are minor subjects - English, History and Science are Major subjects, and a subject is something you 'take' and when you have taken it, you have 'had' it, and if you've 'had' it, you are immune and cannot take it again (for credit). Did you, in your entire secondary education career, have a teach that was so good you wished you could take his/her class again because you just know you'd learn something new?

We teach by Rote learning, performance for grades and mystification.
  It's not what you learn that matters to teacher or student, it's the grade you get that counts. Implicitly we are teaching students that the grade is the important thing. We've forgotten one of teaching's fundamental rules. From the American Pragmatist Poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was buddies with William James and John Dewey.  Dewey remarked that,"The secret of teaching is respecting the pupil." and he ought to know being the architect of that American education system.

Teachers too often make a game out of education, taking unfair advantage of students in much the same way a bully might beat up on smaller children.  There's the "Guess What I'm Thinking" game where teachers have all the right answers, not students. And they pose questions like, "What is the real meaning of this poem?", "What were the three causes of the Renaissance? ", or "What do you suppose was running through the writer's mind when he wrote this article?" One might as well call up the Psychic Phone Line.

Even all the way into graduate school, students inescapably feel a definite class structure separating them from faculty with boundaries of impenetrable condescension. And the sad part is, students are not motivated to change these situations, and neither are teachers.  Perhaps we are conditioned from the first grade through to their first day on the job to expect no more than repetitions of the "right" answers to subjective questions and logging up hours toward graduation/retirement.

We teach powerlessness, dependency, and reliance on authority to adolescents.  To quote Vinkman from Ghost Busters, "This is Bad!" How can increases in self-confidence, respect for one's body, empathy for others be instilled under an educational system that rewards passivity, makes us sit still for hours on end, rewards those who are most cooperative and least intellectual, and emphasizes grades above all else? There's a much better way to accomplish the goals of education, which are to

    • Instruct in skills and develop the intellect
    • Communicate the values and morals of the culture
    • Acculturate young people
    • Foster personal and social development
In Defense of American Education: In the U.S. (until recently) we had the mandate to teach everyone - all who come to the table of education are allowed to dig in and learn. In our main competitors' schools (Europe, Japan) this is not the case. Only the brightest and best scorers are allowed to continue the equivalent to our high school. The others are moved into various levels of trade instruction and work. SAT scores are finally stabilized after 20 years of decline, but they aren't high enough to the psychometricians.

The Big Event that initiated the emphasis on increasing the quality of education back in the 1950s wasn't a strong desire from the leaders of our nation to give children the best education in the world. It was Global Politics - the Russian's caught us with our technological pants around our knees with the successful launching of the Sputnik satellite in 1957. For all the wrong reasons, the federal government decided to finally get into the education business (for middle class white kids anyway).  In the 1960s, the public schools were singled out as the most likely institution to achieve racial equality, reduction in teen pregnancies, adequate social and personal adjustment, reduction of child abuse, and safe drivers. So how are we doing on these issues?

Recent student reactions to school
- What if you were forced to attend the University of Akron?  Would your attitudes toward the institution change if this were true?
  • Most students like school even though some studies show that 52% say most classes are boring but 92% thought teachers didn't know their subject matter.
  • Most students felt school prepared them for life after high school. IV. Problems with Secondary Schools
  • Gender differentials in courses taken. Females still take traditional electives whenever possible - home economics, and business service courses. Males still take more demanding math and science courses - generally.
  • Relevance of course work - it just isn't being pointed out to students.
  • Dropout rates = family background, ability, gender. Interestingly, while the dropout rate is, itself, dropping, students are less competent in English, math and science.

Erikson's criteria for a good teacher
  1. a trusted and respected by the community who
  2. alternates between play and work in the classroom and
  3. recognizes and encourages special abilities in students. One who
  4. encourages industry rather than inferiority and
  5. allows students to engage in peer interaction. A good teacher
  6. mildly but firmly coerces students into the adventure of investigation, accomplishment and discovery and
  7. exercises personal restraint and allegiance to duty only when appropriate, and is a
  8. model of self-direction
 Personality Traits of Good Teachers  Baumrind's discipline Traits:
      1. enthusiasm
      2. planning ability
      3. poise
      4. adaptability
      5. awareness of individual differences and developmental similarities of students.
The Big Factors in Student Success:
Teachers do influence learning with the degree of enthusiasm, organization, adaptability, and cognizance of individual learner’s requirements they possess. Parent and school cooperation must continue from grade school and middle school through high school to ensure positive outcomes for students academically and physically.  Students in middle school interact with many peers on a daily basis. We know that popular or accepted students are more successful academically. Some children and adolescents are the victims of bullies. These children have several characteristics in common including parent who are demanding and unresponsive and a tendency to internalize problems. Victims of bullies can suffer short-term and long-term negative effects. 

Socioeconomic status (SES) also has an enduring influence. Students from low-SES neighborhoods attend schools with lower graduation rates; fewer students going to college; and young, inexperienced teachers. Ethnicity and SES are often difficult to understand by themselves because many minority group members experience poverty. Educational programs often reflect attitudes of institutional racism. Strategies for resolving these difficulties are complicated. Student relations in ethnically diverse classrooms may be achieved by creating jigsaw classrooms, encouraging positive personal contact, advocating perspective taking, promoting critical thinking and social problem solving, establishing cooperative school-community efforts, and advocating for knowledge and respect of ethnic attitudes.
Cross-cultural comparisons of secondary schools have found several similarities such as being divided into two or more levels but have uncovered many differences as well. College attendance also differs with Canada having the largest enrollment.  Exceptional adolescents represent students who often require curriculum modifications and adult support to reach their full potential. Students with a learning disability most often have difficulties in reading, written language, and math. Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have difficulties focusing on relevant environmental stimuli and show high levels of physical activity. About 90 percent take prescription medication for behavior control. Adolescents with disabilities typically are included in regular education classrooms, the least restrictive environment. Inclusion in regular education classrooms ensures that all students have the same opportunities to learn both academically and socially. Adolescents who are gifted demonstrate characteristics of precocity, independence in learning, and internal motivation. Programs for gifted students include special classes, enriched regular education settings, apprenticeship pro¬grams, and community internships. Educators and schools are continuously challenged to support diverse learners within local educational settings

Some Important Research Findings

The Policy Debate on Education

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Beyond Choice to New Public Schools:
Withdrawing the Exclusive Franchise in Public Education
Ted Kolderie. November 1990.

Going beyond the current debate over school "choice" plans, Kolderie, of St. Paul's Center for Policy Studies, advocates ending the exclusive franchise of local districts to own and operate a public school by permitting enterprising educators to open innovative public schools under contract to a public agency. Under divestiture, local districts could even give up the operation of schools altogether, while retaining a broad policy-setting role. Kolderie offers eleven guidelines for creating a more competitive public school system that would remain under public control.

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In Defense of Civic Culture
Jim Sleeper. 1993. From the Progressive Foundation.

Sleeper, a New York writer, offers this primer on civic virtues for the Progressive Foundation's Project on Cultural Politics. Noting that "the growing racial, religious, and cultural diversity of the United States is a fact--indeed a juggernaut," Sleeper sees this development as an historic opportunity to enrich democratic pluralism, but one which is simultaneously threatened by a rising tide of "identity politics" that is itself a product of increasing cultural diversity. Noting the growing tendency toward ethnic polarization in U.S. electoral politics, education, and economic and social development, Sleeper concludes that it is the values we share as Americans, not those on which we differ, that will further our freedom and our goal of a truly tolerant multicultural society.

Goals 2000: Educate America Act

The Goals 2000: Educate America Act was passed by Congress and signed by the President in March 1994. It is based on the America 2000 program initiated by the National Governors' Association and the Reagan and Bush administrations, truly a bipartisan and national grassroots piece of legislation. The provision that supports Washington Goals 2000 (Title III) encourages states to do their own planning around general improvement guidelines (listed below). The Department of Education intends to use the state improvement plans as the umbrellas under which all federal education programs will operate and be evaluated in the future. That means that we will only need one state plan and one school plan for all the federal programs. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the fall of 1994 was the first step in this direction. If this direction continues, it will truly be a revolution in federal-state relations.

The Goals 2000: Educate America Act formally adopts the National Education Goals, originally developed under America 2000 during previous administrations, and sets up other programs at the federal level (as opposed to the state level) to address the National Education Goals, such as violence prevention and early childhood education. Local grants are available under most of these other programs. The National Education Goals and the other titles of the Educate America Act are listed below.

National Education Goals

  • School Readiness All children will start school ready to learn.
  • School Completion High school graduation rate will increase to 90 percent.
  • Student Achievement and Citizenship Students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 with competency in core subjects and prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment.
  • Teacher Education and Professional Development Teachers will have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all U.S. students for the next century.
  • Mathematics and Science U.S. students will be the first in the world in math and science achievement.
  • Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning Every adult will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
  • Safe, Disciplined, and Alcohol- and Drug-Free Schools Every school will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
  • Parental Participation Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.