Radical Reform for Secondary Education

There is an unprecedented opportunity for change before us. Namely, that opportunity is the reorganization of secondary American education. No longer, in this age of instantaneous access to information, can the current models of secondary education, which are based on a 19th century industrial system, attract the necessary interest required to be sure students are properly engaged and invested in their own education.

A chance to build a new system of secondary education should be exciting and interesting to the society at large. I, for one, enjoy living in an educated society. The physical structures must change as well as the basic intellectual structures that have driven our education system for too long. The core subject matter at the secondary level must be adapted. The focus will not change much, many schools teach these core subjects, but the interconnections between them must be further emphasized. The value here is to be found in the interconnections, in the collaboration across content areas. Secondary educators are incredibly eager for this type of collaborative work. They seem to be as willing to collaborate on pedagogy as they are on content.

The three core subjects should be Science, Engineering, and Humanities. Within each of these are various sub-cores. Within the Engineering Core, there will be programming/coding, robotics, and architecture. These will be known as the sub-cores. Within the curriculum for each of these sub-core’s will be the scaffolding required by the mathematics curriculum for mastery of the specific sub-core. Within the broad Core of Science will be the sub-cores of biotechnology to include biology, chemistry and mechanics that are closely connected with another sub-core within Science, namely, physics. Physics, of course, has innate connections to architecture embedded within the Engineering Core as well as mechanics, a component of the biotech sub-core. Each of these topics will be addressed both in the classroom as well as the lab. Herein lie the changes in physical structure. More on that in a bit.

Under the Humanities Core will be the sub-core subjects of moral, political and ethical philosophy as well as the appropriate history required for understanding the material and the history of the arts and design. Students will study this subject matter through both fiction and non-fiction texts, both modern and historical. The subjects will be broached through their interconnections to robotics, engineering, mechanics, chemistry and biotechnology. It is immensely important to provide to the students the connections between these philosophical endeavors and the various sub-cores of Science and Engineering mentioned previously. For instance, the study of these philosophies through primary source analysis is of paramount importance to the creation and further development of artificial intelligence. There must be a distinct understanding of the humanities in order to fully grasp the full complexities of that genre of work.

As for the structural changes to the average secondary school, most seem to have been built on the premise of keeping students in, rather like prisons. This has an inherent negative psychological and neurological impact on the student as soon as they enter the building. The physical structure, therefore, must more adequately address the psychological impact of closing students’ minds prior to their arrival. Architects, working in concert with psychologists and neurologists, are creating incredibly stimulating environments that imbibe people with creativity and eagerness to engage. The school must be a relatively open space, while still addressing very real security concerns. What I am suggesting is a school with interior outdoor open spaces as well as glass walls and open doors. As well, the classroom itself must change. All classrooms should be part traditional space, part lab, and part art studio. Even the Humanities classrooms must have space to create. Of course there will be the lab space required for hand-on applications of the engineering, mathematical, architectural and mechanical skills learned. Schools should be built in such a way as to open the mind, to invite the mind to explore, not close it off upon entry. The space needs to be innovative and collaborative. The educators and students should be working in these spaces on various intellectually driven projects.

Right, the educators are working in concert with the students on various projects, nearly erasing the line between instructor and student. Certainly there are moments when educators must disseminate information, but this will be followed by practical applications of the material learned. There should be, built into the schedule, appropriate time given to the research endeavors of the educators themselves, whether that be in the specific content area of their teaching, or in specific pedagogies related to their craft. This must be left up to the professionalism of the educator and the implementation of incredibly creative scheduling must coincide with these changes.

The changes required are ultimately for the benefit of the student. They are changes that have been required since the industrialization and subsequent mass consumption of education. Randolph S. Bourne wrote in the November 17, 1914 issue of The New Republic an essay outlining the problems with the industrialization of education. Mr. Bourne writes at length about the tedium of the classroom environment. Nothing much has changed in many cases. He wrote, “Is it not very curious that we spend so much time on the practice and methods of teaching, and never criticise the very framework itself? Call this thing that goes on in the modern schoolroom schooling if you like. Only don’t call it education.” Ultimately, it’s time to rethink how to engage students. The physical design of the classroom and building is as important as the intellectual design of the curriculum. It’s time to criticize and tear down the old, tired framework.

This is drastic, yet necessary in order to build a professional work force of competent, analytical thinkers in the industries of the future who are driven to arrive at solutions based on specific moral, ethical and political philosophies and capable of problem solving the most pressing issues of our time.

A university class, Bologna (1350s) (Image: By Laurentius de Voltolina – The Yorck Project (2002)/Public domain)

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