. . .for the convenience of asses. . . .


Mamacita says:  My very first teaching job was in a brand-new high school that was set up in a non-traditional way: some of you may remember the “mod” system? No? I feel old.

Twenty-two 20-minute periods, or “mods” a day. A week was 6 days, and most classes met every other day. A regular class was usually two mods; a study period might be any length, from one to four mods; labs were four or five mods, etc. Academic classes were divided into large group/small group, just like college. For example, a student might have English on Days 2, 4, and 6 during mods 9 and 10. Day 1 wasn’t necessarily Monday; it was simply the day after Day 6. Attendance was taken first mod and wasn’t taken again the whole rest of the day. Students had a huge commons area for ‘free time.’ There was a SMOKING AREA on the side of the building, and teachers had duty there! The sense of openness and freedom and personal responsibility was tremendous.

Except for the smoking area, I loved it.

All the kids loved it, except the ones who couldn’t adapt to the freedom. Kids who desperately needed, REQUIRED, a rigid routine, just couldn’t cut it. But for the above-average kid, it was heaven.

Unfortunately, above-average kids weren’t the majority.

The experiment was ruined by those kids who just cut classes every day and hung out in the smoking area or the commons, or who left the open campus at noon and never came back, day after day, or who wandered aimlessly, lost and confused, trying to figure out where they were supposed to go on Day four, Mod seven. Even though they had a schedule in their hand.

Many parents never quite understood the concept either, and objected. Mostly the parents of the kids who never quite understood the concept.

At the time, I really did think I’d died and gone to school-heaven. I envied the students. For someone like me, that kind of ‘schedule’ would have been perfection. For many kids, it WAS perfection. For the first time, a school was actually catering to the bright trustworthy kids.

It didn’t last long, of course.

It lasted about four years, and then the school board decided to go back to ‘traditional’ scheduling. Unfortunately, the new building had not been designed for anything traditional; it was too open.

So they cut up all that lovely open space into little cubicle classrooms with no windows and turned into a traditional six-period high school. The smoking area stayed for a few more years and then common sense kicked in, the only time common sense was ever utilized in the history of this building.

The building was planned and built for grades 10-12. A few weeks before it was finished, the board decided to send the freshmen there, too. And then they wondered why it was too small from day one.

It’s a shame. Even though it was too late for me as a student, for the first time in my life I had been exposed to a concept that catered to the smart kids, the reliable kids, the GOOD kids, the funky kids, the quirky kids, the kids who could be trusted with a little time.

But, as usual, because of the other kind of kids (and their parents) we lost it.

I am thinking as I write this of two famous writers and their philosophies. One is Plutarch, and the other is Mark Twain.

It was Plutarch who said, “Being about to pitch his camp in a likely place, and hearing there was no hay to be had for the cattle, ‘What a life,’ said he, ‘is ours, since we must live according to the convenience of asses!’ ”

And it was Mark Twain who said, “”In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Of course, Twain also said “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Amen.

And please don’t think I am heartless, although I’m sure many of you do. I firmly and thoroughly believe in a good sound remedial program; that’s what I teach now.

I just don’t believe that the remedial and special programs should dictate or slow down the programs for the entire student body.

(Re-run from August 2005. Wow – even my blog is old!)


Comments

. . .for the convenience of asses. . . . — 8 Comments

  1. I’m a graduate of this school (go Stars!), and, despite getting several
    facts wrong (the mod system lasted a LOT longer than 2 years, since
    our brother had it all 4 of his years, as did I), you’re right: it was “sink
    or swim”. And I swam like a fish. I had time to put in a good 40 minutes
    a day of piano practice, time to do most of my homework at school, or
    time to just read a good book. (Talk to my friends? NEVER:) Yeah–
    the kids in the smoking area most likely are the ones who caused the
    demise of the mod system. Idiots. (Can anyone tell I’m Jane’s sister?:)

  2. I’m a graduate of this school (go Stars!), and, despite getting several
    facts wrong (the mod system lasted a LOT longer than 2 years, since
    our brother had it all 4 of his years, as did I), you’re right: it was “sink
    or swim”. And I swam like a fish. I had time to put in a good 40 minutes
    a day of piano practice, time to do most of my homework at school, or
    time to just read a good book. (Talk to my friends? NEVER:) Yeah–
    the kids in the smoking area most likely are the ones who caused the
    demise of the mod system. Idiots. (Can anyone tell I’m Jane’s sister?:)

  3. For a teacher who loves and adores teaching struggling readers, this probably sounds strange, but I agree!

    I was one of the quick ones. I would have adored a school like that. I wish there were a way to meet most needs and give students the best of both worlds.

    If we could get rid of the regimentation and governmental crap, maybe neighborhood schools would evolve that catered to both types of students. What would stop a town from offering both? One for the more academic types, one for the ones who really need structure and can’t work without it, and one for the arty kids. We would have schools where the kids could really learn a trade that they enjoyed instead of spending time trying to figure out Shakespeare.

    Does that sound elite? I had students who would have adored school if they’d been able to work with engines from 6th grade on. Computers to train technicians, internet training for those with a future in that.

    I’m not trying to separate the classes (using the societal meaning), but instead to supply each kid with valuable school time that really applies to his/her life and interests. Sure, some parents wouldn’t choose wisely, and some kids might go in the wrong direction and need to shift, but that happens now!

    Does this sound crazy? Apprenticeship was an esteemed and valued way of learning over the centuries. Would it be so bad to bring it back?

    Dang. I really have rambled on! I’ll probably come read this tomorrow and regret it. Ah well, easy type, easy delete…if I ask nicely! 😀

  4. For a teacher who loves and adores teaching struggling readers, this probably sounds strange, but I agree!

    I was one of the quick ones. I would have adored a school like that. I wish there were a way to meet most needs and give students the best of both worlds.

    If we could get rid of the regimentation and governmental crap, maybe neighborhood schools would evolve that catered to both types of students. What would stop a town from offering both? One for the more academic types, one for the ones who really need structure and can’t work without it, and one for the arty kids. We would have schools where the kids could really learn a trade that they enjoyed instead of spending time trying to figure out Shakespeare.

    Does that sound elite? I had students who would have adored school if they’d been able to work with engines from 6th grade on. Computers to train technicians, internet training for those with a future in that.

    I’m not trying to separate the classes (using the societal meaning), but instead to supply each kid with valuable school time that really applies to his/her life and interests. Sure, some parents wouldn’t choose wisely, and some kids might go in the wrong direction and need to shift, but that happens now!

    Does this sound crazy? Apprenticeship was an esteemed and valued way of learning over the centuries. Would it be so bad to bring it back?

    Dang. I really have rambled on! I’ll probably come read this tomorrow and regret it. Ah well, easy type, easy delete…if I ask nicely! 😀

  5. Jane, you bring up some wonderful and relevant points. It’s a shame to see good ideas ruined by those who do not wish to follow the rules. I follow your blog on RSS and love to read your insights into the educational system. Having my Master’s degree I have occupied classrooms for years and years, but it’s not the same today as it was even just a few years ago. In my current Poetry class at the local community college, the young students don’t have a clue on how to act like regular human beings. The instructor gives a plain assignment, “Post your poem on Blackboard by Sunday at 9pm.” The students make her repeat it in 19 different ways, and I’m guessing they still won’t post the assignment as requested. I feel sorry for her; she’s such a wonderful teacher. I know a few of us will get a lot out of her teachings but the rest are somewhat hopeless. Isn’t that sad? Thanks so much for sharing your lovely insights.

  6. Jane, you bring up some wonderful and relevant points. It’s a shame to see good ideas ruined by those who do not wish to follow the rules. I follow your blog on RSS and love to read your insights into the educational system. Having my Master’s degree I have occupied classrooms for years and years, but it’s not the same today as it was even just a few years ago. In my current Poetry class at the local community college, the young students don’t have a clue on how to act like regular human beings. The instructor gives a plain assignment, “Post your poem on Blackboard by Sunday at 9pm.” The students make her repeat it in 19 different ways, and I’m guessing they still won’t post the assignment as requested. I feel sorry for her; she’s such a wonderful teacher. I know a few of us will get a lot out of her teachings but the rest are somewhat hopeless. Isn’t that sad? Thanks so much for sharing your lovely insights.

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