Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Robert Paterson’s Weblog: Schools on PEI & the Noodle House – The Frog is Boiling!

Posted by shannonclark on April 14, 2005

Robert Paterson’s Weblog: Schools on PEI & the Noodle House – The Frog is Boiling!

A discussion about schools and students today, with a social network angle of a suggestion that classes and gorups over 150 are not possible.

I left a very long comment, quoted below, where I disagree with the value of groups because of the problem of those students (such as my younger self) who are rejected by the group.

I’m not a parent (yet) but some comments from my own experiences (in the 80’s and early 90’s) in American public schools, as well as my observations since.

1. Groups and cliques have significent dangers and negatives. Not all kids will be “accepted” – being on the out with the whole class (or seemingly so) is not a recipe for a happy childhood, or a good educational environment (I’m speaking from personal experience here from the 3rd until well into high school, I was definitely on the outside looking in)

2. Building on this, people in groups act differently than they do in one-on-one situations. And it takes a great deal for someone, especially a child to stand up to a group of their peers and disagree, go against the tide, or support the underdog.

This means that while yes, a very large, impersonal school has problems, the schools you describe have serious problems as well. Any difference from the group can become a problem (whether the group is a group of punk rockers or the glee club) – in my own case as a child it was an accent, having skipped a grade, being smart, and not having a TV which rippled into not knowing pop culture).

In the high school I attended ( grades were very large (650-700+ students), and though divided into “homerooms” for attendance purposes, the unifying ties were activities and to some degree classes taken – i.e. the 100-150 some students who took advanced classes were distinctly different from the students who took the “regular” classes etc.

That said, even within the various groups there were many students, myself included, who were mostly excluded. (if you can imagine it, I was the butt of jokes from the science fiction club, which was not exactly the bastion of the social elite of the school). Nevertheless I did manage to survive and move on – but I have a rather strong concern about cliques and groups.

So while I see the advantages you depict, I am cautious and concerned – there will be more students like myself who will not fit in, who will be on the outs with the group (at times for very good reasons, at times for very trivial ones). A good school should have the support systems and formal structures in place to help such students, both the teased and the teasers – the “in” crowd and those who are not.

I strongly believe that generally speaking people, and especially students, rise the level of expectations which are set. And further, that people while they behave badly when in groups, can and will change, especially if given the cover and the opportunity to break up the group in a positive manner.

Some small examples of ways this might (and does) work:

– celebrations that honor achievements in many fields and areas, so official awards and acknowledgement/accolades are given not just to say the winning quarterback but also the debate team, chess players, academic leaders, volunteers, musicians, actors, etc.

– provide a wide range of activities, as much as possible scheduled and arranged so that choosing to participate in most is not a choice of one thing to the exclusion of all others – i.e. try to find a way to allow even the football players a chance to also participate in the local science fiction club, chess team, etc. That is, don’t force students to make a choice of one thing to the exclusion of all others.

Building on this, encourage students to take part in activities outside of their usual groups. Here I would disagree with your suggestions – I would actively and significently promote the school formally finding ways for students to have a chance to work together across groups and cliques. More people have a common interest than most would guess – but all too often we (students and adults alike) judge people in a very one-dimensional manner.

i.e. the cheerleader is “just” a cheerleader, so unlikely to hang out with the “smart kids” (however one of my best friends in high school was a cheerleader who also happened to be in many of my AP classes, shared my interest in film, was very serious about her ballet studies, read Psychology Today for pleasure and in short had many dimensions). Likewise a “science geek” may also be a poet etc.

On a related note, at least when I was in high school, it was still possible for a student to have teachers who were also friends. In my case a philosophy teacher whose intro to philosophy course I took as a sophomore and who then proceeded to teach a number of us an independent philosophy course for the next two years, meeting afterschool, in the evenings, and over the summer to discuss great books and talk.

Not a typical teacher perhaps, but the best teachers, I would argue, rarely are.

Great topic!



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