Focusing on those who need help? Interesting learning philosophy. Several WSJ forum comments mentioned this and it goes well with some parts of the article itself.
As it so happens, this is close to the model used at the high school I attended. 😉 This high school (École secondaire Mont-de-La Salle) was a “semi-alternative school” («école semi-alternative»). The school was consistently the highest-scoring public school in the province while I was there. 🙂
One thing about that school was that, contrary to many other schools, there wasn’t much of a stigma attached to academic success. Those who got high grades weren’t “called names.” And though some students were probably a bit condescending, having difficulty grasping some of the material was viewed as a normal thing. Students would help each other out quite frequently.
One thing about our school was that we had increasing amounts of free time. From 20% the first year to 50% the third and final year, IIRC. For many of us, that time was devoted to a passion which often remained important throughout our lives. For instance, like most members of the concert band, I spent a good proportion of that time on private rehearsal. Chances are that I wouldn’t have become an ethnomusicologist if it hadn’t been for that time.
Another dimension of our schedule which was quite useful is that we had “resource center” time («centre de ressources»). During that time, a teacher would be available for questions and students would try and help each other out.
Partly through the whole dynamic (and partly through self-selection), we had incredibly dedicated teachers. The kind of teacher who actually answered questions when you bumped into her/him in the corridor. I distinctly remember a math teacher to scribbling down some explanations to a problem on a student’s locker door. And things like these weren’t uncommon.
Obviously, many people complained about the way the school worked. Some people said that it encouraged dropouts. In fact, before I attended it, the school had a reputation for soft drug use. When I attended that school, I know some students smoked pot (and I remember smelling it on occasion) but it actually wasn’t ever an issue for me. I didn’t want to smoke so I never smoked. And, contrary to many private schools, hard drugs weren’t common.
Apart from the fact that I tremendously enjoyed my time at that high school and that it actually opened my horizons, I sincerely think that it was excellent preparation for college (Cegep), which was excellent preparation for university. For those of us in music, the training was especially valuable and a disproportionate number of us went on to play in different contexts. Friends of mine who pursued careers in hard sciences found some college courses easier than some of what we had in high school.
We were also very engaged in learning. When the school board threatened to close our school, some of us demonstrated peacefully while school was off. We organized a campaign to mobilize parents and to help school board commissioners see the value in our school. We eventually “won” in the sense that the school wasn’t closed. But they merged it with another school which followed a more “mainstream” model and eventually changed the educational model used at our school. From what I heard, that school is now pretty much like any other school in that same school board.
Sure, it’s partly nostalgia. But there was something special about that school. Not only for me. For a significant number of students attending MDLS in the late 1980s. We cared and we became engaged students.
Like Finnish high schools described in the Wall Street Journal, our school was about equal opportunity, not about internal competition. We did compete with other schools in some contexts. But we usually didn’t care so much about school rivalries.
Ok. This “we” may not apply to everyone who attended MDLS during those years. But there were enough of us to make for an interesting dynamic.
A criticism which might be levelled at us is that, in a way, many of us were likely budding young geeks. Given the current state of things in North America, I’m personally not sure that this part is so much of a problem.
Obviously, this all reminds me of social networks and their current online forms. There are several MDLS groups on Facebook and it hasn’t been that difficult for me to reconnect with some school friends through Retrouvailles, Classmates, and Facebook itself. Although, there still are some people about whom I haven’t heard anything in many years.