Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reinvisioning High School

By now we all know the Amy Chua story (WSJ):
Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.
In today's NYT, Susan Engel reports on a small group of students who created their own high school curriculum. Despite Chua's depiction, the American school system provides students with virtually no say in curriculum development. Maybe some lazy Western kids will do a school play or have a sleepover, but it rarely occurs to educators to ask students what they want to read and study; there is simply no individuality in American education. As Engel writes (NYT):
The students in the Independent Project are remarkable but not because they are exceptionally motivated or unusually talented. They are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together. In such a setting, school capitalizes on rather than thwarts the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.
It's also worth going back to her article from last year, Playing to Learn, for another interesting take on education reform.

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