High School Educations: What’s Missing?
What is the missing ingredient from American secondary education?
This question—what’s going wrong in American high schools, and how educators, parents, and students can make it better—has spawned innumerable articles, essays, books, conference papers, and documentaries. We’d like to point you toward a few recent contributions to this discussion.
“The Writing Revolution” by Peg Tyre for The Atlantic is one of the best things either of us have read in ages, and it argues that the ‘missing ingredient’ is technical instruction in writing. It details the educational shortcomings at a Staten Island high school, the changes teachers and administrators tried, and the dramatic turnaround which has resulted. The educators Tyre quotes make a pretty persuasive case that students require technical instruction in order to form complex sentences, build arguments, and articulate thoughts in the broader context of a discussion. These kids aren’t diagramming sentences, but they’re getting pretty close to it. Read through to the end for a rather breathtaking classroom scene.
“Back to School,” a recent episode of the esteemed This American Life, brings us a different answer: kids are lacking non-cognitive skills, or character. Author Paul Tough posits that so-called ‘non-cognitive skills,’ “qualities like tenacity, resilience, impulse control,” are vital to students’ success. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris offers another, more basic problem that impedes kids’ learning: poverty-related stress. She argues that physical and neurological consequences of poverty, malnutrition, domestic violence, and other conditions seriously impede, among other things, kids’ ability to succeed school. The program ends by asking how one can alleviate such stresses and teach these non-cognitive skills. Worth a listen!
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