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Reconnection for Relevance: A Proposed New High School Curriculum

by James L. Fenner - 1970

Mr. Fenner, a man obviously "connected" to the forms and processes of contemporary life, is concerned about the fundamental irrelevance of the high school curriculum for young people needing to know how to make sense of the real world, how to find their way through its labyrinths, how to effect controls. Acknowledging the value of traditional studies for those who are interested, he proposes a series of elective courses aimed at relating the school to out-of-school interests. The program of electives he devises is unusually diverse and imaginative, ranging from a course in moral issues to one on local politics, from futurology to car repair. Unlike other writers for this issue of the RECORD, Mr. Fenner concentrates on content rather than method or technology; but the technologists, like the curriculum-makers, would be well advised to pay heed.

Before high school can make real sense to teen­agers, we have to change it in important ways. We have to find administrators who will be more responsive to students than to bureaucratic higherups. We have to decompartmentalize course work, not by dismantling traditional de­partments of English, secretarial studies, science, and so forth, but instead by offering additional nondepartmental and interdisciplinary courses as electives. We have to tune the high school experience in on the real concerns of young people: self-realization, money, power, the future, sex. And most important, we have to try to relate what we teach in high school to the other things adolescents are learning and to those other sources of experience, information, and understanding that teach them so much so indelibly today.

Any meaningful proposed connection between high school studies and out-of-school learning taking place in our society must presuppose an analysis of just what this out-of-school learning really consists of, what it means to young people, what changes can be made in the schools to relate it to the curriculum, and what effects can be expected to flow from these changes. Fearing1 has described the great impact and power of the mass media, and Cans2 has ex­plored the similarities and differences between school and the media as regards their structure, functions, problems, content, and policies. And Newcomb* has indicated how tenaciously attitudes formed out of school stick with us (where favorable reinforcements exist) long after their formation.

Extra-School Learnings

TV is certainly the most productive non-school source of learning today. Even though, as Maccoby4 reveals, high school students watch less TV than younger kids do, they still spend more time in front of the bug-box than they do in school and pay closer attention to what it offers than to the school's intellectual menu. Unlike school, TV gives them a sense of involvement which McLuhan5 has shown to be all the more intense because it is so sketchy, so "cool." It brings them the most expensive and fashionable entertainment talent in the world, "live" from wher­ever. Witty6 insists that TV has value: it brings youngsters open-ended talk programs which, with seeming authority, touch upon the most important issues of the day; and it brings documentaries more informative—and certainly more stylish—than anything in their textbooks. With TV, it seems, they live; by comparison, their textbooks seem dead.

Radio is far from dead in the world of today's teenagers. Rock 'n Roll and folk-rock are adolescent-aimed industries now, and they add up to a vast seg­ment of our economy. The "love now" and "student power" action fashions of the day are fed and fertilized by the fare radio purveys: protest lyrics, psychedelic songs, red-hot news, uninhibited talk, and millions of commercial messages that do for the transistorized corner boys what the bugbox does for the stay-at-homes. Rock groups like the Beatles, the Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas and the Papas, and Vanilla Fudge; oddballs like Tiny Tim; folk artists like Odetta and Joan Baez; and folk-rock performers like Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel are true folk heroes among young Americans from 13 to 30.

Film is a rich world for teen-agers, and not just because of its role as a medium of individual and social recreation. It is contemporary, style-setting, camp, kitsch, social comment, sex education, philosophical orientation, and es­cape, all rolled into one, and its appeal is as intense as it is multifarious. Sitting back in the welcoming dark of the movie theater, the youngster learns about love, country, heroism, alienation, politics, business, adulthood, and tragedy. And in the realms of personal appearance, manner, talk, action, gesture, and (especially) motivation, he learns about style.

Students learn more than we sometimes realize from non-verbal sources. Interpersonal distance and the meaning of spatial and kinesthetic relationships between individuals have been explored by Hall7 and shown to convey im­portant meanings. The symbolism of static visual messages is equally im­portant,8 especially in such areas as advertising, architecture, and interior decoration. High school teachers have long known the strength of latent mes­sages that seating arrangements convey, and how much more conducive to free discussion some such set-ups are than others. Human spaces and non-verbal communication are consciously and unconsciously used, abused, and learned from, everywhere.

World events teach a youngster much. It hardly matters whether he gets his information from a newspaper, radio, TV, newsweekly, or hearsay: ultimately it comes from the media one way or another. Ellul9 has shown how much propaganda affects the attitudes of citizens—even young citizens—in a techno­logical society, and how pervasive and powerful they must of necessity be. And today's teenager knows, as perhaps his father never knew, the extent to which events concern him directly: the war, the riots, the black power move­ment, the draft, the campus protests, the peace marches, the French general strike, the assassinations—everything.

The job market teaches adolescents a great deal. If they work, they learn how the great world works. They learn how to present themselves, how to "make it" with the company, how to play adult, how to save and spend money. If they don't work, they learn about unemployment, about leisure, about dis­couragement, about job requirements, screening practices, interviews, and ques­tionnaires. They learn about taxes, budgets, the cost of self-support, the diffi­culty of saving something extra. Or if they don't learn these things, then they learn about poverty, indignity, idleness, despair, impotence, and futility.

Personal enjoyments teach kids tremendously important learnings. Social and physical relationships with the opposite sex teach them the meaning of love, pleasure, commitment, manipulation, cynicism, and faith in their dealings with others. Cars and drugs provide vehicles for literal and figurative trips away from the confines of home, family, school, neighborhood, or boss, and into a world of adventure and self-discovery. Fashion is a universe of self-expression, originality, conformity, timeliness, self-image-adjustment, consumership, and self-acceptance.

Finally, society's formal, hierarchical structure of power and influence rein­force much that school teaches and provide learnings that go far beyond what school attempts. The changes that Pearl10 and Bundy11 propose are intended to be as beneficial to the kids as they are for the adult poor. On the other hand, student power is one thing; civil disorders in the streets are another. Deans of discipline are one thing; police with nightsticks are another. The cop who doesn't see the pusher, the cop who uses tear gas, the cop who accepts a small bribe not to give a ticket for a moving violation, the window clerk at the Bu­reau of Motor Vehicles who won't lift a finger to help, the bureaucratic super­visor who won't do anything about it—all these represent evils of a credential-ridden and bureaucratic society that a young person finds particularly insuffer­able. And to him, the flag-wavers that brag about America and seem blind to its emptiness seem contemptible.

What Do Non-School Learnings Mean?     

School learnings connect students with the world of the past, with the textbook world of the received wisdom and knowledge of the ages. Non-school learnings con­nect them with the present and future world around them. Where school shows them how they must see each new emphemeral and maybe "tasteless" fad in the perspective of a stable tradition, the media show them how necessary it is to change with the changing world in order to be with it, to be in, to swing. Where the former teaches them how to live in the status-ridden world of the "real" power structure, the latter teaches them how to live in whatever entic­ing dream-world they desire. Where school teaches them required roles, out-of-school experience shows them congenial new ones to try. Where the one gives them information about set subjects, about set authority, about set regu­lations, etc., the other gives information about new politics, new style, new entertainment, and new issues. Where the one provides inculcation in tradition­al values, in conservatism, in playing the game, the other propagandizes for current values.

The middle class has found, both in and out of school, an array of indispens­able guides of self-realization. The media have given them consumer expertise, a feel for making it, a style for advancement, a fistful of job skills: reading, writing, accounting, organization, and so on. Goodman12 and Friedenberg13 demonstrate the extent to which the schools and the media have neglected the potentially-fulfilling road to honest spiritual development in favor of the emptier and more convenient middle-class personal-management skills of thrift, investment, diligence, respect, gratification-postponement, and other forms of hoop-jumping.

For the poor, both school and the media have been powerful inducements to self-hatred and self-contempt. The advertising media have made them hunger for consumer goodies they can never legitimately afford. While Nat Hentoff14 and Jonathan Kozol15 on the one hand have shown vividly how they have suffered alienation from self, from middle-class values they don't espouse, from school routines, regulations, and, worst of all, irrelevancies, Martin Deutsch16 and Frank Riessman17 have outlined not only their deprivations but their resources as well. The schools have yet to institutionalize ways of capi­talizing on these.

Roads to Relevancy      

There is, of course, more than one road to relevancy in schooling. What is relevant to one aspect of our many-faceted civilization is unrelated to another. What helps one person get a job or get into this or that college prevents someone else from getting any­thing at all worth knowing out of school. The first attempt to solve this ques­tion came in the 1930's after it became apparent that the compulsory education laws were filling up the high schools with students to whom the traditional "academic" course of study—classical and modern languages, mathematics, science, literature, and history—meant little, and who weren't willing or able to get all that stuff into their heads. When these "new" high-school youngsters arrived on the scene and preceded to fail the traditional courses in droves, to express their hostility at great cost to their teachers' peace of mind, to prevent the "good" students from learning by their disruptions, and to wreak havoc upon the schools' educational statistics, the "general" course was created for them. Because these students were the dumb ones, or "slow" or "disadvantaged," or whatever fashionable euphemism you choose, the "general" course was simply designed as a reduction of the standard course. If the dumb ones couldn't learn as much, then give them less. If some subjects were too hard, then substitute easier ones. So they got—and are getting—a simplified cur­riculum. However inadequate the traditional courses were in dealing with the problems of the twentieth century, the "general" courses were worse. The high schools had one inadequate (difficult, but outdated) curriculum for the "good" students, and another worse one (empty and outdated) for the "dumb" ones.

In as varied a society as ours, it would be just plain silly to condemn every traditional subject as irrelevant. Some of the old academic and commercial standbys have great value for certain students. One need not be either an adherent of the Bestor-Rickover18 thesis or an enemy of John Holt19 to see value in foreign languages, mathematics, science, social studies, literature, mu­sic, shop, bookkeeping, stenography, typing, and many other job-oriented, or college-oriented or recreation-oriented or broadening or "skill" subjects—-for some students. Certainly these should be retained in the high schools, whether as required courses for specialized curricula or as electives for anyone who might be interested. But one need not hark back to the days of Jane Addams and yearn to see the school as a glorified settlement house to know that these old standard traditional courses are not enough today. They are not enough for the college-bound youngster, and they are not enough for the job-bound. They are not enough for the middle class, and they are not enough for the poor. Other subjects—ones that deal with contemporary life and that make use of contemporary issues and media—are required if any youngster is to gain from high school some sense of what his world is like and where it's at and how it hangs together. Probably the naive faith expressed in George S. Counts' Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?20 is out of place among today's complexities, but certainly reality and and reconnection (to borrow a term current in another context) cannot hurt.

The following proposed elective courses for high school are intended to fulfill this requirement. They are intended as electives because I believe stu­dents—at least some students—would find them—at least some of them— intrinsically interesting enough to make them want to take them. This alone would relate them, as far as the nature of their appeal went, to out-of-school interests. They are intended as courses for everybody; and that means a hetero­geneous student body. This too would relate them, if only superficially on an organizational basis, to life outside the school. And, most important, they are intended to cut across interdisciplinary boundaries, to bridge some of the gaps between subject and subject or between school and the "real" world, to com­bine and recombine the world, the media, the person, and the school in new and significant configurations, so that adolescence need not be the nightmare that Jules Henry,21 John Holt, Paul Goodman, and Edgar Z. Friedenberg as­sert it to be. It is this feature of the proposals that, I hope, would make these courses valuable for the society (because its youngsters would be able to experience some sense of synthesis), for the school (because students might not feel so hostile to an institution that is giving them an education with a little life in it), and for the young people themselves (because they would be able to see some purpose, some pattern of interrelationships, some relevance to reality, in what the school is offering them). Here are the proposed electives, with brief descriptions of each:

1. ENTERTAINMENT  This course would deal with current films, with TV, with radio (very much a source of adolescent entertainment today: "We're porta­ble!" as the "good guys" put k), records, with the theater, and with the entertain­ment aspects of the mass-circulation magazines. Sebastian De Grazia22 underlines the hollowness of our leisure. A course like this one wouldn't cure the malaise he describes, but it might be a start, and it would surely be popular. Its purpose would not be primarily to entertain the students; it would be aimed at helping them to understand and assess and respond knowingly to what the entertainment media offer. Materials would be plentiful; they constitute a major part of the out-of-school life of youngsters already, and in class they could be analyzed as to their methods, their craftmanship, their social implications, their psychological impact, and their visual, verbal, rhetorical, sensory, and kinesthetic structures.

2. PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS  This subject would explore the many lev­els and values in personal relationships. Carl Rogers23 insists upon the essential im­portance of self-discovery. "Psychology" would have been the traditional name for a course like this, and there would still be that aspect to it, but in addition it would deal with the style and content of relationships within the family and the peer-group, and with personal concerns such as love, sex, friendship, ambition, the draft, and perhaps it would touch upon the philosophical as well as the psychological aspects of such matters. Here too, the content of the course would be life as students actually and personally live it outside of school. Although it would deal with these situations in general and in principle instead of attempting to guide pupils in their personal lives directly, it most certainly would bear a direct and magnetic relation­ship to the reality with which they are in daily contact.

3. MORAL ISSUES  This would be a study of ethics as exemplified by the personal relationships of the previous course, or by political questions, or by school or business problems. The course would aim to present issues and analyze them with penetration and clarity rather than to present solutions. Any kind of written or other material could provide the basis for a sequence of discussions: magazine articles, news items, TV, radio, or film shows, excerpts from philosophical writings, the Bible—whatever. These would be grouped into "topics" representing different kinds of ethical issues, and presented in discussion as they relate to adolescent con­cerns both immediate and future. Here the ethics of business, politics, interna­tional affairs, child-rearing, sex, and school could be subjected to the kind of analy­sis that might make even school look relevant.

4. WASHINGTON POLITICS TODAY  This would combine the current events that the media inundate us with, the national aspects of what used to be called "Civics", political theory, debates on national programs and/or bills before Congress, biographical and/or political studies of national figures, a little history as the need for it arose in discussion of the day's issues, and perhaps some class pre­dictions of future political developments. The text for the course would be the daily paper, the newsweeklies, the radio, TV, and perhaps some traditional text­book material on the structure of the Federal government.

5. LOCAL POLITICS TODAY  The emphasis here would be on state and municipal politics, including education, the police, welfare, the courts, and the tax structure. City and neighborhood newspapers would provide the texts. TV and radio coverage of local events would be monitored daily. Local politicians might be asked to address the students. Jury duty would be discussed, possibly in connec­tion with the film Twelve Angry Men. Magazine articles on such topics as corrup­tion in politics would certainly be of value and interest. An aspect of such a course that would capture the interest of young people and seem relevant to their real con­cerns and out-of-school experience is the discovery and discussion of ways of "fight­ing city hall" effectively: how to mount an effective campaign, when to write let­ters, when to obstruct, when to visit whom—how, in other words, to make one's weight felt as a citizen.

6. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS TODAY  All the media would provide ma­terial for this course. Propaganda analysis would form a considerable part of the subject-matter, as would the metaphors of international discourse. The foreign press could be studied for alternative points of view. WNYC has an interesting suppertime "Foreign Press Review" several times a week. The course would not try merely to acquaint students with international events; it would seek to help them understand the rivalries, pressures, aspirations, and other motivations that they reflect. And it would undertake some evaluation of the thoroughness, effectiveness, objectivity, and reliability of the media's presentations of international news.

7. HOW TO THINK STRAIGHT  The traditional name for this course is "Logic," but here a commonsense rather than a technical approach would be stressed. Books like Stuart Chase's Guides to Straight Thinking24 or Robert Thouless' How to Think Straight25 could be used as texts, and issues and examples for analysis could be found in every news presentation or public document, whether political, social, religious, or whatever, published in America. The popularizers of Korzybski26 have provided interesting case studies in straight and crooked thinking. In this kind of course, the "purely" intellectual enterprise of thinking accurately could be given a contemporary applicability to social and personal issues that vitally concern young people, thus serving to help integrate in-school and out-of-school learning and experience.

8. THE FUTURE Nothing concerns teenagers more than the future; probably not even the present. This course, cutting across many subject-matter boundaries, would explore and speculate about the future of technology, or politics, or school, of personal relationships, of sports, of communications, of America, of the Negro, of practically everything. It would draw upon the present as depicted in the media, upon the past as researched out of books for this or that investigation, upon logic, experience, and intention. It might help pupils to feel that they have some realistic possibility of contributing to the shaping of their own futures if they understood more fully the processes and probabilities in accordance with which the future tends to unfold.

9. OUTER AND INNER SPACE: A SCIENCE SURVEY In descriptive rather than technical terms, the principles, discoveries, and chief theories of the social and natural sciences would be presented and discussed here. The course, while relying to a degree on historical material about previous discoveries and innovations in the sciences, would be kept rigorously up-to-the-minute via regular scrutiny of current material presented in the media. Thus, new advances in the technology of space exploration, communications, computerization, automation, or even recent re-evaluations of theoretical systems could be made a part of the course. Biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology might justify the "inner" part of the title; mechanics, chemistry, sub-atomic physics, and astronomy would be the "outer" space. The point of the course would be not to introduce the technical aspects of the sciences, but to give some pupils some familiarity with underlying concepts of scientific understanding, such as the "reflective thinking" of Dewey27, so that they will be better able to follow and comprehend the technological society in which they live.

10. HOW TO USE FIGURES  The computational problems of everyday ex­istence stump many pupils because they have learned in school to fear and hate quantitative subject-matter. But computational math and useful arithmetic, if pre­sented afresh in the guise of "tricks" or "speed math" or "mental arithmetic" or "short cuts to accuracy," might grab youngsters and sustain their interest. The Trachtenberg System and other computational devices could be made the basis of a truly useful arithmetic course that would be of value to academic, commercial, vocational, and "general" students. For some, its value would be vocational; for others, academic; for still others, perhaps just recreational or curiosity-satisfying. Certainly it would help relate school to actual student needs.

11. LOCAL RESOURCES: INFORMATION, RECREATION, SERVICE The aim here would be to engage directly in the task of acquainting students with what is real in their surroundings. Particularly among the poor, many students have had limited experiences outside their immediate neighborhoods. In this class, they would have a chance to take the trips their elementary-school teachers never took them on: walking tours through their city's neighborhoods, to the underground cinema, night court, domestic court, the Chinese New Year celebration (if there are such), and scores of others. It would acquaint them with where and what the tourist attractions are; it would take them to the airport; it would show them how to file for services when they need them; it would give them a sense of their city. Here they would find out how to call an ambulance, how to get psychiatric emergency service, how to apply for these or those benefits, whom to complain to about this or that: the Better Business Bureau, the Rent Control Office, the District Attorney's office, and so on. It would acquaint them with the services offered by the Housing Authority, the Board of Health, adult education programs, the Legal Aid Society, private and public family service organizations, the Department of Hospitals, the Civil Liberties Union, out-patient clinics, the Visiting Nurses' Association.

12. ADVERTISING AND PROPAGANDA Here students would practice analyzing and interpreting the political and economic persuasions that flow around them incessantly. They would deal with local and international propaganda pitches, with the relationship, as Ellul28 describes it, between technological progress and propaganda, with advertising's protean forms: radio and TV commercials, printed ads, direct mail, billboards, packaging and point-of-scale promotions. They would practice reading between the lines, understanding what is not said, understanding the purposes of the message-originator, understanding the weaknesses of the receiv­er. Students would consider the interrelationships inherent in the multiple appeals of advertising: visual, verbal, auditory, etc. A course like this is bound to have practical value and intense interest for adolescents. Chase's The Power of Words and Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action might be used as texts with average classes. Even as demanding a work as Ellul's Propaganda might be used with superior groups.

13. CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND FAMILY PSYCHOLOGY Here girls would study family resources, sources of outside help on personal and family prob­lems (medical and psychiatric clinics, marriage counseling, etc.), principles of child development, cause of family friction, etc. As texts, the class could use not only popular books like Spock's Baby and Child Care29 and Gesell and Ilg's Child Develop­ment,30 and the U.S. Government pamphlets, but they could also study popular presentations in the magazines, papers, and on TV to evaluate their worth and seriousness.

14. DO-IT-YOURSELF HOUSEHOLD REPAIRS AND IMPROVEMENTS. This would deal with strictly practical matters that any boy who's going to be a tenant or homeowner would want to know: wiring and rewiring, fuses, circuits, over-loading, circuit-breakers, types of cables and their uses, plumbing, changing washers, fixing valves, carpentry, plastering, painting various types of surfaces for various purposes with various types of paint, waterproofing, insulating, weather-stripping, caulking, air conditioning, fans, circulation, ventilation, floors and their care, fire-hazards and how to prevent them, and appliance repairs. Especially now that the so-called "comprehensive high school" looks as though it is to become a reality in most places, a course like this could well satisfy the requirements of a quite heterogeneous group of boys, including many who might not be interested in any of the regular vocational shop courses.

15. CAR REPAIRS AND IMPROVEMENTS This would not be a course in auto mechanics. Instead it would provide theory and practice in "little" jobs like polishing, washing, tuneups, tires, minor adjustments, gasolines, oils, checking and replacement of parts, customizing, accessories and their usefulness, sources of supply and advice, how not to get cheated at the service station, how to check things for yourself, and how to judge a used car. Texts might include repair manuals, Con­sumer Reports (the annual car issue), and hot rod and custom car magazines. Or all this material might be incorporated into an expanded "driver education" course.

16. MEDICAL SCIENCE This would be designed to acquaint the layman with modern principles and concepts related to medicine and human health. It might in­clude discussion of matters such as sex: its psychology, physiology, and mores; medi­cal hygiene; preventive medicine; medical practices (what to expect your doctor to do for you); sanitation; medical research and recent discoveries; health emergencies and what to do about them; danger signals and symptoms; where and how to get help and treatment. In addition to current medical columns purveyed by the various periodicals, students might study a popular medical "encyclopedia" or the Con­sumer's Union manual, The Medicine Show. Here again, an elective course in school would capitalize on a significant out-of-school interest and use it to convey a useful body of integrated and current information and a sensible set of attitudes.

17. CONSUMER AND LEISURE ENGLISH Students would discuss and practice how to read labels and other "fine print" intelligently; how to read and understand applications for loans, charge accounts, subscriptions, book clubs, and similar promotional programs; writing letters of inquiry and complaint; reading advertisements between the lines; understanding and appraising TV and radio com­mercials; getting reliable information on quality and prices; entering promotional "contests": writing last lines for jingles, figuring out rebuses, or telling "Why I like Gloppo in 25 words or less"; doing crossword puzzles; learning teenage etiquette. As texts, the class could use magazines, catalogs, newspapers, and similar materials.

18. GETTING YOUR MONEY'S WORTH The emphasis here would be on such concerns as comparing supermarket prices (on a cost-per-unit basis, for ex­ample); family and personal budgeting; home rents and purchases; charge accounts and their "real" cost; installment purchases and their cost; insurance of various kinds, liability, health, straight life, term, hospitalization, etc.; savings and invest­ment media; where to get reliable information on products and prices; how to save on taxes and compute returns. The thesis expressed by David K. Gast in his article, "Consumer Education and the Madison Avenue Morality,"31 would be part of the-course; major materials would include Consumer Reports, Changing Times, adver-,; tisements, and application blanks.

19. HOW TO GET A JOB AND GET AHEAD This course would survey job resources and requirements in service, communications, manufacturing, white-collar, retail, professional, armed-forces, civil-service, and other lines of work. As a career survey, it could be adapted to the "level" and needs of any class. It would acquaint students with job resource manuals available in the library, with job-getting services like the commercial employment agencies and the state employment ser­vice, and other similar matters.

20. EVERYDAY LAW This would be a little like the conventional "business law" courses widely offered in commercial curricula today, but it would not be re­stricted to commercial applications. In addition to these, it would familiarize stu­dents with the ins and outs of negligence suits, leases, contracts, citizens' rights and duties both in court and vis-a-vis the police, and it would acquaint them with the nature of civil suits, family court, small claims court, etc. Trips to the various types of courts would supplement a simple law text. Class discussions would be based on hypothetical and even actual cases representing real situations.

21. PART-TIME AND SUMMER EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES WORKSHOP This would be an exploration of job possibilities; instruction in job requirements and duties; a survey of retail, camp, resort, civil-service, library, dining-room, Park Department, ice-cream, post-office, even baby-sitting opportunities, and how to get and make the most of them. The mechanics and legalities of working papers and other school and governmental requirements would be touched upon. Students would be acquainted with school programs such as STEP (School To Employment Program), the Job Corps, co-op educational programs, and others.

22. HOME DECORATION This would combine features of traditional courses touching upon this area that are currently offered by art, home economics, shop, and merchandising departments. For interior decoration, it would cover color, texture, shape, size, line, pattern, fabric, furniture, accessories, utility, quality, sources, costs. For exterior decoration, topics would include painting, gardening, outdoor design, patios, porches, grills, houseplants, flower-cutting and arranging, landscaping, and bug and pest control.

23. DESIGN CRAFTS This would correlate art and shop and perhaps even sewing in providing introduction to and practice in the creative crafts of jewelry-making, block printing, ceramics, fabric printing, weaving, knitting, crocheting, gros-point and petit-point embroidery, rug braiding and hooking, quilt-making, sculpture, wall decorations, gift wrapping, toy making, and making ornaments and artificial flowers.

24. MOVIE, TV, AND STILL PHOTOGRAPHY Going beyond the typical art department course in still photography, this would include color, black and white, film types, film speeds, camera types, shutter speeds and lens openings, cam* era accessories, filters, darkroom chemicals, processing, and manipulations. In addi­tion, using movie and TV equipment (cameras, sound equipment, monitoring screens, TV tape recorder, etc.) it would correlate the arts of improvisation, acting, dramatic writing, continuity, sound background, advertising psychology, and others, in providing students with an opportunity to create commercial and artistic •work of all kinds for fllm and TV. Kohl in 36 Children32has written of how successful ordinary creative writing can be in capable and imaginative hands. A course in creative photography might be even more exciting to adolescents.

25. NUTRITION, DIET, AND PARTYMAKING This course would cover nutrients and what they do, calorie counting and special diets, expensive vs. inex­pensive foods, economy in shopping, planning ahead for meals, budgeting food pur­chases. In addition, it would deal with problems of entertaining, such as providing hors d'oeuvres, beverages, dinners, after-dinner noshes, table settings, etc.

26. THE STOCK MARKET Any student, rich or poor, might experience an interest in mediums of investment and speculation. This course could introduce such matters as the mechanics of financial transactions, the stock exchanges, round-lot and odd-lot trading, commissions, margin, analysis of individual companies and industries, sources of information and advice, "technical" (chart) analysis, funda­mental economic influences, and other investment and speculative vehicles like bonds, puts and calls, mutual funds, rights, and commodities. Popular and technical publications that could supplement the Times and the Wall Street Journal as test materials are plentiful.

27. SONGWR1TING This course would be taught jointly by a music teacher and an English teacher and would be open to would-be lyricists, tunesmiths, and arrangers. As an elective, it would have appeal for many youngsters because of its concern with the here-and-now world of fads and fashions in popular music. As education, it would make sense because it would help transform a largely passive interest into something approaching craftsmanship and creativity.

28. INTERMEDIA Here students interested in creative enterprises like the theater, film, dance, "happenings," painting, sculpture, or just plain self-expression could experiment with new kinds and combinations of art productions. Some of this material could be developed and polished for public presentation in auditorium or library, or coordinated with the school's regular extracurricular activities, such as the school play or "sing." Combinations of media, like lighting, color, sound, shape, depth, movement, and texture would be organized into new and experimental artforms.

29. CHOREOGRAPHY Open to students interested in dance, this elective would give them an opportunity for creative self-expression, for coping with the problems of organizing movement interestingly and effectively, of filling the stage, of achieving audience involvement, of building a climax, of coordinating and unify­ing diverse kinds of movement into a viable whole, etc. The class would involve itself in public performance within and outside the school, both at recital form and as participants in many school theatrical presentations.

30. PROTEST LITERATURE Taught by an English-Social Studies team, this elective would acquaint students with major works of protest literature, from Aristophanes through Swift to the present day. Masterpieces, as well as current ephemera, would be studied both as metaphors of the human condition and as effec­tive reflections of their times and places of origin.

31. SPEED READING Open to any student who wants to increase his reading power, this course would appeal, I believe, primarily to the college-bound or com­mercial student. The many books available today on better and faster reading, along with tachistoscopic exercises, would provide ample materials for a truly challenging and effective course.

32. SPEEDWRITING As an alternative to standard courses in stenography, an elective in speedwriting might have appeal for students who want a system of fast note-taking for personal use rather than a commercially salable skill. Students might well be attracted by the possibility of mastering a high-speed writing meth­od based on the familiar longhand symbols and therefore more accessible from the start and easier to practice at any time, even when incompletely learned.

33. MEMORY TRAINING Self-help books on this subject are numerous and interesting, but they cannot provide the stimulus or supervisions that a teacher and a course can give. Aside from the trivial and superficial appeals that may inhere in this kind of skill-subject, in today's increasingly non-"linear" world it may be more and more important for students to develop methods (even gimmicky ones) for remembering what they see and hear.

34. ROCK AND FOLK SURVEY The history and current state of the rock'n'­roll and folk music industries would be the subject matter here. Recordings and dittoed lyrics would be the text. Student research, presentations, symposia, TV tapes, audio tapes, visits to recording and broadcasting studios, and many other activities could form the methodology.

35. INDEPENDENT STUDY With the approval of the appropriate faculty member, a student wanting to pursue studies along lines dictated by his own inter­ests would have the opportunity to consult on the preparation of a study program consisting, perhaps, of suggested readings and an appropriate time schedule. Whether the subject were statistics or psychological novels, the student could proceed at his own pace, consult when necessary with his adviser, and reap the private benefit of having explored a subject himself.

36. WORLD RELIGIONS Comparative study of religious beliefs and prac­tices would acquaint students with the traditions, rituals, and dogmas of the great religions of the East and West. In an age of ecumenism, this kind of factual study would be of interest and of value to students. Parents would approve of it and religious organizations would cooperate in planning and executing it.

37. THE ARTS TODAY A study of the avant-garde in painting, sculpture, film, architecture, multimedia, happenings, dance, theater, poetry, the novel, etc., would capitalize on everything that is happening in the world of the creative arts concurrently with the course. Students would see actual productions and exhibitions throughout the semester and read current materials such as exhibition catalogs, magazines and newspaper criticism, and the Sunday Times. Interrelationships between the various art forms and the milieux in which they occur, taboos and con­ventions observed and broken, and the implications of what a medium is not at­tempting would comprise the substance of the course.

38. VARIETY IN AMERICAN SOCIETY This survey of American sociology would explore varying traditions and customs among segments of America's popu­lation drawn from diverse ethnic groups, national origins, ages, socioeconomic classes, and parts of the country. Emphasis would be not on a mere anecdotal ac­count of other groups' funny customs, but on how traditions interact with social, political, ethnic, economic, and geographical background factors as well as with the future. One possible text resource for such a course would be the magazine Trans­action.

39. EMCEE1NG,NEWSCASTINGANDD1SKJOCKEYING This speech elec­tive would give showbiz-minded students a chance to study and practice the tech­niques required in the entertainment industry: gagwriting, timing, introducing guests, interviewing, introducing songs, reading commercials, newscasting. Video tape and audio tape would be the standard performance media for classroom ses­sions. These could culminate in weekly or monthly assembly or P-A system enter­tainment and public service programs featuring the work of the class.

40. COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY .As an elective course this could appeal to a heterogeneous group including those with a philosophical interest in works such as those by Ellul and Weiner, those with a mathematical bent and a possible career interest in programming, and those commercial students who want to learn key punch operation in a realistic setting.

Conclusion: So What?     

 The foregoing has dealt almost exclusively with the content—as opposed to the methods and hard­ware—of the relevant high school curriculum. Naturally, much must be done to make the manner as strongly integrative as the matter. TV tapes, pro­gramed texts, team-teaching arrangements, individual language-lab style mod­ules, multimedia materials, and the actual commercial media of newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and film all would play a more prominent role in the new curriculum than they typically do today. The reason for this would be partly that such a school would probably be more interested in relevant meth­odology by virtue of its commitment to relevant content, and partly because many of the above courses would necessitate the use of out-of-school learn­ings, both as to substance and as to vehicle. The point here is that although this paper has stressed substance, there can be no doubt that an immensely im­portant feature of the relevant high school will be its style.

A panacea? Hardly, because the out-of-school learnings will stem from the same society that supports the schools, with all its weakness, contradiction, corruption, vulgarity, and short-sightedness. But at least the school will stand a chance of playing an integrative rather than an alienating role. At least it may help students, not to ignore the realities around them while they are in school, but actually to deal with them. At least it may acquaint them with ways in which their surroundings can be useful, threatening, amusing, significant. At least it may help them to find resources within themselves that they can exercise with pride and pleasure. At least it will help them feel that school is for real, that school is "with it," that school is aware that electronic and social revolutions are transforming America. At least it will give them an aware­ness that controversy can be a source of revelation and illumination, not just repression and discomfort. At least the pupils—even the poor—can feel that school is giving them experiences that count, that they want, that they value, and that connect them with the world instead of isolating them from it. And at least there would be less reason to think of the dropouts as being the smart ones.

How to overcome the inertia and conservatism that paralyze big-system schools, or the local pressures that hound decentralized systems, remains un­solved. But if the problem can be solved, and if the above courses and others like them can be instituted as the elective half of a youngster's high school experience, then adolescence might finally make more sense to kids.


1. Franklin Fearing, "Social Impact of the Mass Media of Communication," in N. B. Henry, Ed., Mass Media and Education. NSSE Yearbook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954.

2. Herbert Cans, "The Mass Media as an Educational Institution," The Urban Review, February, 1967.

3. Theodore M. Newcomb, "Persistence and Regression of Changed Attitudes: Long-Range Studies," Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 19, 1963.

4. Eleanor Maccoby, "Effects of Mass Media," in M. C. Hoffman and Lois W. Hoffman, Eds., Review of Child Development Research. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1964.

5. Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1965.

6. Paul Witty, "Effects of TV on Attitudes and Behavior," Education, October, 1964.      

7. Edward T. Hall. The Hidden Dimension. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1966.

8. Jurgen Ruesch and Weldon Kees. Non-Verbal Communication. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956.

9. Jacques Ellul. Propaganda. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965.

10. Arthur Pearl, "New Careers and the Manpower Crisis in Education." Mimeo, 1968.

11. McGeorge Bundy, et al. Reconnection for Learning. Mayor's Advisory Panel on De­centralization of the New York City Schools. New York, 1967.

12. Paul Goodman. Compulsory Mis-education. New York: Horizon Press, 1964.

13. Edgar Z. Friedenberg. The Vanishing Adolescent. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

14. Nat Hentoff. Our Children Are Dying. New York: Viking Press, 1966.

15. Jonathan Kozol. Death at an Early Age. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Inc., 1967.

16. Martin Deutsch, Ed. The Disadvantaged Child. New York: Basic Books, 1967.

17. Frank Riessman. The Culturally Deprived Child. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

18. See Arthur Bestor. Educational Wastelands. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1953; and Hyman G. Rickover. Education and Freedom. New York: Button and Co., 1960.

19. John Holt. How Children Fail. New York: Pitman and Co., 1964.

20. George S. Counts. Dare the Schools Change the Social Order? New York: John Day, 1932.

21. Jules Henry. Culture Against Man. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.

22. Sebastian De Grazia. Of Time, Work, and Leisure. Twentieth Century Fund, 1962.

23. Carl Rogers. On Becoming a Person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Inc., 1961.

24. Stuart Chase. Guides to Straight Thinking. New York: Harper and Row, 1956.

25. Robert H. Thouless. How to Think Straight. New York: Hart Publishing Company, 1939.

26. See Alfred Korzybski. Science and Sanity. Lakeville, Conn.: Institute of General Semantics, 1958; and the following: Wendell Johnson. People in Quandaries. New York: Harper and Row, 1946; Stuart Chase. The Power of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 19S4; Hugh R. Walpole. Semantics. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1942; S. I. Hayakawa. Language in Thought and Action. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1964.

27. John Dewey. How We Think. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1933.

28. Jacques Ellul. The Technological Society. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964.

29. Benjamin Spock. Baby and Child Care. New York: Pocket Books, 1946.

30. Arnold Gesell and Frances L. Ilg. Child Development. New York: Harper and Row 1949.

31. David K. Gast, "Consumer Education and the Madison Avenue Morality," Phi Delta Kappan, June 1967.

32. Herbert Kohl. 36 Children. New York: New American Library, 1967.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 71 Number 3, 1970, p. 423-438
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1750, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 12:28:13 AM

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