I am open-minded about this. And on top of that I'm optimistic. However, recently I have been working at this private place for some time and now I'm wondering some things. Here are some points that have come across my mind.
-Mixing ages and how it affects a student's maturity.
-Small schools/classes are perhaps overrated.
-Deviation from a state-structured curriculum, including not training for standardized tests.
-The epidemic of poor concentration and selfish impulse.
-Lack of lateral thinking and critical thinking skills, or even just shallow imaginations.
Actually my experiences have been pretty good with this group of kids. I teach a creative course on songwriting and poetry. I've also included theory of creativity and fun exercises. These kids are mixed in this Jewish Community Center; they range from grades 8 to 12. About 10 of them in total in this class and most of them don't show up. I am only a substitute but I try my best and for the most part think I'm doing an effective job to the best of my ability (it's a learning experience for me, too) and I attribute the negative things to how the school is run with respect to the kids' developments.
I'm only 23 and I remember high school perfectly fine; so I know how running about not in class usually worked, though for me and my peers it was usually for productive purposes. I guess that could be happening here at the JCC, too- two kids skipping class today, for example, to finish filming for a project; but personally I think there is a huge lack of professionalism- that is, the relationship between teacher and student, with respect to roles, requirements, the bigger picture, and so on. Basically, if a kid can mature his or her mind in some way, I think in general you're doing a good job as a teacher. But these students don't seem to understand why they're there. They don't grasp the great opportunity they have and instead are very much focused on the clumsy mindless things that are inevitable in childhood but of which an educational institution has no room for.
Anyway, this experience has sparked some interest in what an ideal secondary school for teenagers would be. I used to oppose uniforms; I used to think standardized tests served no purpose. Well, these are two things I think are necessary now. I know standardized testing is a whole other topic, and trust me I have been in and out of it for quite some time, being that my brother struggles heavily with it despite his genius and Asperger character traits. But at least these tests teach kids how to strive for something, how to concentrate on something and prepare for it systematically. True that there are plenty of bad teachers that spend more than copious amounts of hours brainlessly bashing the material into their brains like repeatedly slamming a book into a door 'til it gives, but at least there is a beginning, middle, and finality to it and a sense of project-doing. These kids seem to be well-trained [presumably by their other teachers] on how to put down the SAT's but then a lesson takes place and their concentration is close to nil.
It seems to me that concentration, interest, and productivity are the most important attributes for a student to muster. From this a good memory develops, creativity will arise, minds will open, and respect and appreciation will unfold. I'm telling you: there are eighteen year-olds in this small school that are naive like poorly trained home-schooled children, and they are ready to go to college soon. This is their last year. To be fair, some of them are exceptional at things like mathematics and physics (they have a great math and physics program) but they lack in the things I just mentioned: good memory, creativity, open-mindedness, and awareness of the world.
I like to think that as kids we have exceptional imaginations- except for maybe a few unfortunate ones who only know how to modify existing ideas and not come up with new things- so what, I ask, turned these kids into block-heads who see pictures on a board, are asked to create a story using all the items listed, and more often than not just throw them all into a room with no good thinking involved? Where the desire to create? Where's the inspiration from childhood stories? Oh yeah, Hannah Montana stepped in.
I remember high school being full of purpose and hard work and achievement, recognition. Also, I presume it was even more so back when my dad was a teenager. I remember my old physics professor at FSU telling me how he has seen the attitudes of the students change throughout the years. The desire to understand the world through physics isn't there anymore; now it's quite a matter of just receiving and completing work- many times with a "whatever it takes" attitude. What is happening to the world? How can we fix it? What revolutionary school system is necessary for bringing out the best in kids these days? What we have is hardly working. Even talented, intelligent, and charming individuals can get sucked into this mess. The best thing I can do is be the best teacher I can be and be as honest and direct as I can be. We can't rely on teachers to be the best all the time (it's hard enough to just get a good lesson plan together) so we need to modify the entire institutional system in order to weed out the mindless habits that have no place in learning.