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Bard’s Botstein Gets It Right

October 30, 2013

The NYTimes invited Leon Botstein to respond to the Room For Debate Question on whether high school should be four or six years and his response was on the money: secondary education needs to be completely overhauled.

Some context to the question: last week Barack Obama visited P-Tech, a six year high school in Brooklyn that he singled out for praise in his State of the Union address. The school begins in ninth grade and, as I learned in Botstein’s response, is “…unabashedly vocational, designed and supported by IBM”. Graduates receive a technology related associates degree at the end of their education and, presumably, a ticket to employment in the technology industry.

Botstein concurs that high school should be six years, but he envisions a completely different model making three points in doing so:

  1. “…high school should start and end earlier. Middle school and junior high school need to be discarded… We waste our adolescents’ time in school. Properly structured and taught, much more could be accomplished in less time.”
  2. “…the curriculum that begins in the 11th year, which should be the first year of post-secondary education, needs to be taught not just by teachers but by professionals: biologists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists and the like, just as is the case in our universities.”
  3. “…schooling should not be linked to corporations, or to a single employer or current technology, even if the sponsor is IBM or Google. They too, like General Electric and Kodak before them, will downsize, disappear and be replaced.”

Botstein has long advocated the elimination of the senior year in high school, but this is the first time that he’s discussed middle level education. Having recently researched middle level education as part of a consulting assignment I think his ideas merit serious debate. Too many people ascribe student’s boredom to recent technological developments, but I believe students are bored because they want to know WHY they are learning information… and learning to “pass a test” so they can go to “another level” where they can learn how to pass ANOTHER set of tests is not motivating them to learn about content or learn about themselves.

A future post will tie together some recent articles I’ve read on MOOCs and mastery, two elements that could bring Botstein’s ideas to fruition.

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