Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Monday, September 19, 2005

What is "Middle-Schoolism"?

Not Middle Schools, mind you, but the philosophy that bred them. This is explained in a new paper by Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke, Mayhem in the Middle. A few highlights:

She [Dr. Yecke] is superbly qualified to tackle this topic, having served, among other things, as a senior federal Education Department official, as Secretary of Education in Virginia—a state widely praised for the quality of its academic standards—and, for a brief but astonishingly fruitful period, as Commissioner of Education in Minnesota. As we go to press, Florida Governor Jeb Bush has just named her that state’s new chancellor for K-12 education. She also authored the fine 2003 book, The War Against Excellence, which simultaneously exposed the shortcomings of U.S. middle school education and the country’s strange and dysfunctional animus toward “giftedness.” (Information about that book can be found at www.waragainstexcellence.com.) As expected, her book was condemned by reviewers for the National Middle School Association, which branded it “part of a larger attack sponsored by ultra-right and ultra-conservative groups on colleges of education, NCATE, and the like,” thus sparing itself the unpleasant task of addressing Yecke’s substantive arguments and voluminous evidence.

Middle schoolism (definition): An approach to educating children in the middle grades (usually grades 5-8), popularized in the latter half of the 20th century, that contributed to a precipitous decline in academic achievement among American early adolescents.

The middle school movement advances the notion that academic achievement should take a back seat to such ends as self-exploration, socialization, and group learning.

If ever an education fad was a vivid illustration of dreadful timing, reaching its intellectual and political pinnacle just as lightning struck that very mountaintop from afar, that was “middle schoolism.” The key year turned out to be 1989, when the middle school bible, an influential Carnegie-backed report named Turning Points, was published just as the governors and the first President Bush were gathering in Charlottesville to place the United States squarely on the side of the standards-based reform that is antithetical to the central message of this education religion.

Rather than submit to the reality that America now demands schools with strong academic achievement and that such achievement is essential to secure not merely national prosperity but also the engaged citizenship that undergirds the republic, radical middle school devotees continue their efforts with fervent zeal.