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Return to Comprehensive Education and Emphasizing Organizational and Research Skills will Bridge the Gap

Posted By: Montgomery Granger on November 9, 2007
With regard to Peter Saks June 17, 2007 article on “Bridging the Cultural Gap” in order to provide “Proper schooling for disadvantaged children” by “showing them the connections between school and the world beyond -- information and cultural guideposts that such children aren’t getting from home”, the answer is a move back to comprehensive schooling.

Growing up in a suburban/rural public school district in Southern California I had many opportunities, especially in high school, to take courses, some required (small engine repair, driver education/training, bachelor and bachelorette living, wood or metal shop), and some not required but available (culinary arts, animal husbandry, advanced auto mechanics, auto body, business skills), that I could use practically in every day life, or, if I were so inclined, seek additional advanced courses or plan a career with. Mr. Saks may hypothesize that I was among his “culturally privileged”, but indeed I was a member of a large bi-racial blended family with none of the parents involved college educated. I did not excel in my studies, although my inspiration for attempting to attend the college of my choice came from an older, mentally gifted step-sibling, who had a near perfect SAT score and ended up with full-ride scholarship offers from around the country and settled on a triple business major. He is black, I am white; same household, same neighborhood, same community and educational resources.

My guidance counselor told me that with my C+ average I should look at a State College, or Community College options. I did better than average on my SATs and so had a few more choices, and my older brother said to me that I should apply to wherever I wanted to go and let the chips fall where they may. Being from a limited resource background, my mother allowed me only three applications. I shot for the moon with an application to Cal Berkeley, and was re-directed to UC Santa Cruz, which was perfect for my second choice of a Marine Biology major. Although I ended up going out-of-state after to pursue my first choice, which I had no financial business doing, I followed my dreams.

I literally borrowed my financial future away, and because my divorced father and mother made too much for me to qualify for grants my first year in college, and too little to seriously assist me, I took out multiple college loans, which I later paid off through an Army National Guard loan repayment program.

Now a school district administrator in a middle-to-upper middle class and somewhat professional suburban Long Island, New York school district, and a former teacher for 8 ½ years in New York City Public high schools, where I taught health, physical education, business math, and “Life Skills,” I can appreciate the need for today’s students to have more options that college prep or BOCES, which many school districts shy away from after a certain point due to the cost of sending students to practical but expensive BOCES vocational programs.

My California comprehensive high school has a working restaurant, a working animal farm, a working auto shop, and many other venues where students could learn skills matched to their aptitude and interests, whereas today’s students in most schools cannot begin to get the training and knowledge they need to be successful, productive, and happy citizens.

Today’s educational pundits have helped swing the pendulum way too far towards unnecessary and redundant accountability through national, state and municipal testing requirements. If teachers and administrators are competently licensed, and schools officially accredited, why then is there this need to test on an increasingly higher and higher level? If most students get into the college of their choice by scoring high on SAT and ACT aptitude tests, then why all the emphasis on No Child Left Behind and State or national standards exams? We are literally painting our less academically inclined students into a corner from which they may never recover to experience their true potential, all in the name of meeting some politicians’ arbitrary and capricious goals.

I agree that less “advantaged” students may have fewer resources from which to gain information, but from my experience those who achieve academically do so because they are inspired to do so, either by a special teacher, friend, parent, sibling, or other family member. The key to effective teaching and learning, and eventual student success and happiness, is finding a mentor who cares about the student to the point where the student becomes passionately inspired. Significant emotional events change us. The most successful teachers create opportunities for significant emotional events for their students which inspire them to do better, reach higher, and achieve their dreams.

I agree that one cannot always blame the parent for their child’s failures, but that’s where it starts. I agree too, that school communities can do better to help students gain access and understanding to information that will help them move forward academically, but as long as we insist “every child can learn” what we want to teach them, which implies that every child can meet the increasingly higher and higher academic standards, then we deny our human need and uniquely American cultural desire to pursue happiness. And doesn’t true happiness include finding a job or profession we have a love and passion for? Isn’t true happiness being able to put your heart and soul into something and feeling successful at it?

The value of Project Adventure is not necessarily the physical challenges that students are helped to overcome, it is the “Full Value Contract,” teamwork, and being able to discover one’s own learning style and challenging it that help students prepare for life’s challenges beyond secondary school. Getting students aware and caring about themselves and others, and learning how to help themselves is a critical experience. My Great Uncle Harry, God rest his soul, once told me that the difference between knowledge and intelligence was that knowledge was “knowing what you know”, and intelligence was “knowing how to find out what you don’t know.” You can imagine his emphasis on the public library, a good dictionary, and encyclopedias. (Today, students have free Internet, either through their school, their library, or for a fee at home.) I preached being “intelligent” in the way my Great Uncle meant it to my City health students; required them to bring a dictionary to class, let them use notes on tests, and challenged each student every day to improve themselves and their grades through independent and group research.
I started each new Health class with a unit on what I called “Academic Health”, studying what the “secrets of straight A students” were, forcing them to be organized, and teaching them and requiring them to use good note-taking techniques in order to become more responsible for their own learning and become more consistent learners. I taught “Spiritual Health” as the next unit, defined the term “values” (beliefs, feelings and actions which are important to us, the most important of which are actions, for if we don’t act on our beliefs and feelings we do not truly value that which we say we do) without defining their values for them, exploring philosophical questions (Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? How long have I got?), all in an effort to help them focus like a laser beam on their hopes, dreams, goals and desires in a realistic way. I told them that once they set a goal (college, technical school, work) that everything they did or didn’t do either got them closer to the goal or further away; from going to the library or seeking extra help from a teacher after school, to fritting away and afternoon “hanging out” or playing video games, respectively. Of course they learned about subjects in the health curriculum, and the NYC Public Schools offer tremendous academic freedom to teachers which allowed me to focus on things other teachers could or would not, but these are the types of things that more often than not go untaught.

I would say that rather than “cultural” disparities, as the author suggests, we are dealing with teaching effectiveness due to an overemphasis on redundant testing and lack of choice in the curriculum. Are these money issues? Partly, but for the most part we are talking about a sea change from the very top to get back to a point where we respect the abilities and potential of all students, and not overemphasize academics over a more comprehensive approach to helping to produce competent, successful, productive and happy citizens of the American culture, and getting back to trusting the local educational establishments to make sure it happens.


Montgomery J. Granger
TC ‘86
Curriculum and Teaching in Physical Education
Movement Science and Sport

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 Return to Comprehensive Education and Emphasizing Organizational and Research Skills will Bridge the Gap by Montgomery Granger on November 9, 2007
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