Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Saving Mister Banks

I just read an article that suggests that middle school should be abolished. The fact that it appeared on the always suspect "Daily Beast" site should give us all pause before continuing to simply fall into a pool of rabid ascent or denial. This is an idea that is meant to stir things up. Just like other posts recommended by The Beast, this is more of an incitement, a call to virtual arms. Arms that the author expects us to be up in arms with him. "Him" being David Banks, the President and CEO of Eagle Academy. If that title sounds a little odd for somebody as involved in education. It's not "teacher" or "principal" or even "head of department." Chief Executive Officer? What sort of corporation is he running out there in The Bronx, New York.
One that wants to do away with middle school. That's apparent. From the business end of things, it makes sense to cut out the middle men, boys and girls. Middle school, as he suggests in his article is neither fish nor fowl, and therefore carries the limitations of both without many of the advantages. The biggest challenge to making a middle school work isn't the curriculum or the staff, I feel. The hardest obstacle to overcome is the students themselves. As Mister Banks points out in the article, "hormones rage." Developmentally, it is almost impossible to get any education done while bodies and minds make the lycanthropic transition from children to teenager. Those formative years are a train wreck. How can we expect academic success from a group of kids who are peeling their way out of their slimy cocoons, on their way in no predetermined rush to adulthood?
I was one of those slimy lycanthopic messes, once upon a time. I benefited from many of the suggestions Mister Banks makes. The idea that there needs to be clear expectations for staff and students is not a new one, however. The notion that middle schools are a costly burden to taxpayers is. That is precisely the kind of educational reform that plays so well with voters who don't have a child in middle school or on the way there. It's a way to streamline the educational process in a very businesslike way. It makes sense from that fiscal standpoint, but continues to leave out the glaring disconnect: Why would it work any better to leave the kids in elementary school for another year or two, or to rush them up the developmental hill to high school?
I'm a teacher of kids right up to middle school, who i then cast out into that cold and unforgiving world of tweendom. Really? No. Part of the process of teaching any grade is the preparation of students for what comes next. Even if you're getting your students ready for the rigors of first grade, graduate school or a career in the custodial arts, it's our job to make sure they are ready. That doesn't mean just test scores, that means emotional well-being. It would be simple enough to just house these hormonal cases in a warehouse for two or three years until the tides of puberty have ebbed to the point that each individual could be released from their stasis pod and returned to the rigors of academia. But that isn't the world in which we live. This is the world where we need to meet the kids where they live. We need to address their needs, not the needs of the corporation. This is public education, not a profit-loss statement. Would it make sense to have more K-8 or K-12 schools? You bet, but I will tell you that it will still take the extraordinary individual to deal with those curious and sticky middle years. Good luck to us all in that endeavor.

No comments: