Sunday, April 11, 2010

What is old is new again.

I went to high school from 1968 to 1972 (yes that makes me OLD). For the first two years it was an "old school" system: streamed homeroom classes based intellectual "ability", dress codes (no pants for girls, no facial hair for boys!), and regular exam sittings. After my grade 10 year the administration changed and brought with it new and "enlightened" practices. Term and final exams were abolished and replaced with "continuous evaluation." Teachers experimented with new teaching and evaluation styles. (All my social studies evaluations were "oral exams"). We didn't write essays. We had quite a bit of choice as to how to structure our time and when we would complete assignments. We didn't even have to go to class. Dress codes - we had to wear clothes. In total the school experience was supposed to be modern and "relevant."

I should also add we were working class kids. Most of our parents had working class jobs and little experience with post-secondary education. Post-secondary ed was possible because we could live at home and take the bus to tech school or university.

I chose to go to university. I remember how ill-prepared I was for the experience. Most of my academic survival skills came from the first two not the last two years of high school studies. I survived but many others did not. ( I should add that the technical schools are even more demanding than university and often more difficult to enter.) Students who came from more traditional educational experiences coped a whole lot better than I did.

A lot of the people who didn't survive post-secondary studies went to work and stayed in those jobs. In the seventies, you could go to work at potash mines or meat packing plants and make pretty good money. Interestingly now most of their kids pursue university or some form of post-secondary training.

I think we need to be EXTREMELY careful when we talk of educational reform. I see a lot of people arguing for something VERY MUCH like what I experienced my last two years of high school. My students write exams and essays not because I think they are particularly superior educational activities. They may need these skills in order to help them move onto something they really want to do with their lives.