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 only a few 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 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. (The building has recently been remodeled and it’s beautiful now.)
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.”
I have friends on school boards, so I don’t entirely agree with Twain’s sweeping assessment; after all, it was a school board that decided to use the modular system. Smart, funky, awesome board, that one.
Aaaaand, it was a school board who decided to take it away. Boooooo, Twain’s school board.
I’m really glad that in our country, school is for everybody. You all probably know that originally, school was for academically promising kids only. High school used to be more complicated and difficult than college is now. The emphasis was on the word “high.”
“Mom, Dad, I’d like to go on to HIGH school.” And everyone was either so proud their hearts burst or so puzzled they ran out of duh’s. Real high school was hard. As it ought to be.
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.
For just a little while, the bright shining brilliant stars were allowed to sparkle and send their light out into the universe. Now, our brightest and best are once again trapped under layers of mediocrity, much of which comes from the state in the form of standardization.
Our bright and gifted students are sadly and sorely neglected. Why are we letting that happen?