Middle muddle

Middle school is “where academic achievement in America falters and begins its accelerating decline,” writes Education Gadfly, citing an LA Times editorial that praises KIPP middle schools. Gadfly goes on:

(Middle schools) are usually places where academic rigor and achievement take a back seat to “personal development,” social consciousness, and the inculcation of egalitarian principles. Middle schoolism is about curing the middle school student of his or her supposed dysfunction — which doesn’t leave much time for learning (which the most radical proponents of middle schoolism believe is beyond the ability of early adolescents anyway).

Many kids who’ve done reasonably well in elementary school disengage in middle school and never get back on track.

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Comments

  1. I teach at a middle school in California. Things are changing. Middle schools are changing back to junior highs. Already half of our 7th graders attended 6th grade at the elementary school. We are breaking up our cores (Math/Science or LA/Social Studies taught in blocs) and moving to single subjects. We have been told to either get a single subject credential or be prepared to move back down to the elementary. We are in the third year of having AVID on our campus. We are definitely changing the focus from self esteem to performance. In fact, our new principal is emphasing intermural and intramural sports.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Last spring I was interviewed for a teaching position at the local high school. The vice principal said, “The junior high looks at potential. We look at performance.” He then felt compelled to add, “quite correctly.”

  3. (Middle schools) are usually places where academic rigor and achievement take a back seat to “personal development,”

    Of course, such development better be in a direction that brings fame and glory to the school. Of course, this applies to all institutions. None of them give a damn about personal development – and a good many of them really can’t.

    social consciousness,

    Social dominance through bullying.

    and the inculcation of egalitarian principles.

    Anti-intellectual principles (and principals), really. Middle school is almost as bad as elementary school on this ground.

    The loudest proponents of such middle-school “egalitarianism” are egalitarian only when it comes to intellect and academics. When it comes to sports-based dominance, they are very elitist, with almost Soviet hypocrisy:

    “Attention comrades, this is your Kommissar speaking. Make way for your ultimate equals, the People’s Champions of your school. Be prepared to do your duties as citizens and share your books, lunches, and cash with them. That includes completed homework assignments. Do not anger them with reactionary black trenchcoats, or Harry Potter books. They need some volunteers to practice football tackling, so please have the spirit to volunteer when they ask. Next week, they begin bayonet practice.”

    “Egalitarian” principles in practice never mean an environment where everyone can develop their individual talents free from the bigotry of their supposed peers, and the society that brainwashes them. I have yet to see any public school that delivers on that model.

  4. Greifer says:

    Can you please give me the definition of middle school? What grades and age range are you discussing?

  5. KimJ721 says:

    My middle school was grades 5-8, but that was an unusual situation due to overcrowded elementary schools. Usually a middle school has grades 6-8 (approximately ages 11-14), and a junior high school has grades 7-8 or 7-9 depending on the particular school system.

  6. Great summary of junior high ‘socialization’, Beeman. I regard the public school junior high/middle school concept as the great destroyer of youth. A crucible of misery. Purgatory. Hell. The greyhound bus station in Hollywood in 1979 was more humane.

    Who thought of the idea anyway? Is it another import from Prussia? Or was it a social experiment foisted on the trusting public by the knowldegable edu and psycho experts from esteemed universities? Do I want to know the answer?

    Zock, cringing at the thought of junior high, in NM

  7. Hunter McDaniel says:

    Back in the early 90’s our district reconfigured junior-highs to middle schools and instituted a “Middle School Essentials” philosophy which embodied every aspect of “Middle Schoolism” the Gadly cited.

    That’s why the very first charter school in our district (which I helped found) was a middle school.

  8. the “middle” of middle school (except back then it was still called jr. high), my 13th year, was the absolute bottom circle of Hell for me.

    I think part of the problem may be the permissiveness and the bent on developing “social consciences” but I also think a big part of it is that kids that age are just little jerks. They’re old enough to know exactly what push other people’s buttons, but not old enough to have developed sufficient tact and empathy to realize that pushing other people’s buttons can be quite cruel. (Some people never DO develop that tact/empathy, but that’s another issue).

    The other thing I hated about 7th grade was that my science class was taught almost solely as “active learning” or whatever the hell you call it. Where basically we had to do exercises like build a shoebox container for an egg and let it be dropped off the roof of the school. Your egg survived? You get an A. Your egg cracks? You get an F, regardless of how carefully you researched the design, had bad luck that day, had someone sabotage your shoebox…I suppose you could argue “but that’s like real life” but it was distressing and almost made me stop wanting to go into the sciences – it was totally chaotic, there was no plan, there didn’t seem to be any clear pattern of what we were learning. There were a lot of assignments with unclear and frustrating instructions. I suppose that was designed to teach us something; all I learned from it is that I don’t like working with people who are too lazy to articulate the “rules of the game.”

    I also noticed in junior high that a lot of my friends (female) kind of drifted away from academics – boys and clothes became more popular, and it seemed that being a “c” student (so as not to “threaten” the boys) but looking perfect was the goal in life. I didn’t believe in that goal and lost a lot of friends, as a result. (My best friend at the time even sent me a note basically saying “I think it’s best if we’re not seen together at school any more.”)

    I don’t know what the solution is – perhaps in some cases, single-sex schools could help – and maybe being very academically rigorous. But I suspect LOTS of people are just miserable in the 11-15 years, and that’s only partly compounded by the law-of-the-jungle attitude in some schools.

  9. Mr. Davis says:

    Middle school, junior high, whatever, it’s really all about hormones. The kids are shot up with them and are near impossible to handle, as ricki notes. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are really no realistic academic objective in those years, just survival; of the teachers and students.

  10. Great summary of junior high ‘socialization’, Beeman. I regard the public school junior high/middle school concept as the great destroyer of youth. A crucible of misery. Purgatory. Hell. The greyhound bus station in Hollywood in 1979 was more humane.

    I don’t know if you’re being sarcastic or not, especially about the Greyhound bus station. But consider, that nobody had to spend 6 hours a day at the Greyhound bus station, or other such scummy places, unless they worked there. And they could legally quit their jobs. And what was the suicide rate of these employees?

    Who thought of the idea anyway? Is it another import from Prussia

    Probably Horace Mann and John Dewey.

  11. I don’t know what the solution is – perhaps in some cases, single-sex schools could help – and maybe being very academically rigorous. But I suspect LOTS of people are just miserable in the 11-15 years, and that’s only partly compounded by the law-of-the-jungle attitude in some schools.

    I don’t know that the best solution is, either.

    I would suggest homeschooling/ unschooling, but that is difficult, expensive, and not for everyone. But I suspect that the brilliant, innovative, visionary young people that would be the most ruined by middle school (or school at all) would be best served by homeschooling.

    Private and alternative schools are another idea, but they are expensive, and not all of them are good. Many of them have the same problems as public school. One advantage of private schools is that they can be selective about who to admit, and thus keep out the real SOBs.

    Single-sex schools? Maybe.

    I’m surprised that nobody thought of inventing cubicle schools! Cubicles work so well in the adult office world; they might have a use in schools, to personalize and academize them more.

  12. Katherine C says:

    I guess I’m just odd because I had a blast in junior high. My sixth grade teacher (only one because sixth grade was self-contained, seventh and eighth grades departmentalized) was so encouraging about my writing that I started my first novel that year. Seventh and eighth grades for me were equally good. Lots of writing, lots of reading, and I even joined Drama club. The downside was that my junior high education was so good my first year of high school ended up being horribly boring, especially English. I’d read just about every book assigned, including the Shakespearean plays A Midsummer Nights Dream and Romeo and Juliet (they’d been covered in eighth grade drama.) Additionally, whereas my junior high teachers, etc, had encouraged me to challenge myself, my high school counselor didn’t even want me to sign up for algebra or drama. The reason for drama? He thought I’d be intimidated by all the juniors and seniors. I did fight him on it and that class ended up being the saving grace of my freshman year.

  13. CatholicSchoolMom says:

    so many of you who comment are employees of the public education system. I feel you do not see the big picture. I attended private school until 5th grade, at which time I was put in public school for the remainder of my education. It was the start of a long dark period in my life that has stunted me, and I feel I will never reach my potential due to the warped environment of the public school culture, which in my memory was more like a children’s prison.
    HEre is the big picture I think you are missing: children (especially middle school age children) WILL BE CRUEL to each other unless kind adults are ALWAYS STANDING OVER THEM and FORCING THEM TO BE KIND. The book “The Lord of The Flies” shows how young adults without any guidance will behave. My children attend Catholic school because I remember VERY WELL what the difference between the public and private schools was. I hear public school employees always saying that there is only so much they can do, the kids are so bad that its beyond all hope. My answer to that is that of course they are bad, your job is to show them how to be good. Any kid who has had no guidance is going to be bad. But not evil- that depends on the reaction of the adults nearby. Either the teachers are up to the task they are charged with or not- I say in a public school they are not.

    I actually remember the times I was cruel to other children with more regret and pain than anything any other child did to hurt me. I wish I had been stopped from doing it by a responsible adult.

  14. Most parochial schools are K-8. Why would you want to segregate kids at a difficult age and put them in a highly impersonal environment where their personal needs are unlikely to be met?

    If there is any kind of useful segregation at ages 12-14 it is to educate boys and girls separately. In fact, in a culture which gives conflicting signals about male and female sex roles and is increasing unable to socialize young men into a positive masculine identity, single-sex schooling seems to be a necessity.

  15. Most parochial schools are K-8. Why would you want to segregate kids at a difficult age and put them in a highly impersonal environment where their personal needs are unlikely to be met?

    Because constructive segregation meets their personal needs.

    There are alternatives to both public and parochial (religious) schools. These include schools based on vocation and personality – some of which already exist. There already include religious schools, as I mentioned; and academic ones, athletic ones, artistic ones, and many others.

    By “vocation”, I mean the old definition, similar to calling, rather than just vocational schools (though they can be included.)

    As for personality, people do develop one at an early age. Many of the stereotypes (such as slacker, goth, jock, geek, skater, hipster) are based on very real personality traits, upon which people of all ages naturally segregate.

    If there is any kind of useful segregation at ages 12-14 it is to educate boys and girls separately.

    How about educating individuals separately? That’s yet another possibility open to some.

    In fact, in a culture which gives conflicting signals about male and female sex roles and is increasing unable to socialize young men into a positive masculine identity, single-sex schooling seems to be a necessity

    I do not dispute that single-sex schools can be useful for certain people.

  16. “I don’t know what the solution is – perhaps in some cases, single-sex schools could help – and maybe being very academically rigorous.”

    Being academically rigorous can’t hurt, and can work wonders. For one thing, the students will be too busy to torment each other and set up warped little mini-cultures that encourage bad habits and prepare the students for a vicious adult society that (thankfully) doesn’t exist.

    “But I suspect LOTS of people are just miserable in the 11-15 years, and that’s only partly compounded by the law-of-the-jungle attitude in some schools. ”

    And the other part is that, without academic rigor, they’re wasting their time, stuck in a hell-hole that isn’t even advancing them toward productive adulthood.

    “Middle school, junior high, whatever, it’s really all about hormones. The kids are shot up with them and are near impossible to handle, as ricki notes.”

    That’s pure nonsense. 30 year olds are shot up with hormones too… they just know how to behave in civilized society (because someone finally got around to teaching them, although not during middle school) and have much more to lose.

    “I’ve come to the conclusion that there are really no realistic academic objective in those years, just survival; of the teachers and students.”

    Uh huh. That’s the conclusion that the students come to, because the teachers aren’t giving them anything else useful to do. You don’t turn stupid just because you acquire a sex drive. What you do is become increasingly frustrated with your interminably long childhood, with the incredible amounts of time you’re forced to waste listening to drivel rather than learning anything useful, and with the adults whose overriding goal seems to be to keep you ignorant and helpless as long as humanly possible and prevent you from growing up. This will tend to make one rather moody and cranky and not at all inclined to diligently do obvious make-work.

  17. Being academically rigorous can’t hurt, and can work wonders. For one thing, the students will be too busy to torment each other and set up warped little mini-cultures that encourage bad habits and prepare the students for a vicious adult society that (thankfully) doesn’t exist.

    These warped little mini-cultures are manufactured in Hollywood, and promoted by the media megacorps as a means of control. I can say the same thing about “teenagerism” in general.

    The concept never existed in traditional society; it had to be invented in post-1945 America. Before then, there were no “teens”, just young adults, treated consistently. This does not imply “the good old days”; premodern societies had many faults too.

    “Teen-age” is a ghetto for older children and young adults. There’s not even a meaningful break between that stage and true adulthood – nor a reliable maturity test.

    Uh huh. That’s the conclusion that the students come to, because the teachers aren’t giving them anything else useful to do. You don’t turn stupid just because you acquire a sex drive.

    The issue here is not kids turning stupid at all. It is that middle school (whether by accident or design) empowers the stupid, cruel, and atavistic kids at everyone else’s expense.

    What you do is become increasingly frustrated with your interminably long childhood,

    That’s another point. So is the not-so-good job market for modern youth; with so much overskilling, and fear of competition by the 30-and-up somethings already entrenched.

    with the incredible amounts of time you’re forced to waste listening to drivel rather than learning anything useful, and with the adults whose overriding goal seems to be to keep you ignorant and helpless as long as humanly possible and prevent you from growing up. This will tend to make one rather moody and cranky and not at all inclined to diligently do obvious make-work.

    Like I said, the slum nature of middle schools, public school in general, and modern adolescence.

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