Thursday, September 15, 2005

Middle schoolism

Middle schools are a major target of an anti-intellectual movement dubbed "middle schoolism" that sees middle schools more like a psychiatric ward than a place for academic achievement. In fact, it is hostile to academic achievement.

Now the veil is ripped off the ugly face of middle schoolism in a just-released
major study by the Fordham Foundation.

The study concludes that middle schoolism together with be lingering effects of the bizarre theory of "brain periodization" should be consigned to history's dustbin.

As a teacher of middle graders I know first-hand that early adolescents are perfectly capable of academic achievement and are not the dysfunctional monsters the movement would have us believe they are.

Excerpt from The Education Gladfly:

Fie on Middle Schoolism

If ever an education fad showed dreadful timing, reaching its intellectual and political pinnacle just as lightning struck the mountaintop, it's "middle schoolism." The key year was 1989, when the middle school bible, an influential Carnegie-backed report named Turning Points, was published. It hit just as the governors and then-President Bush gathered in Charlottesville to place the United States squarely astride the standards-based reform that is antithetical to the central message of this education religion.

In the ensuing decade and a half, the National Middle School Association (NMSA) and its acolytes, flying the banner of Turning Points and arguing that the middle grades are no time for academic learning, argued with great success that these schools should be devoted to social adjustment, coping with hormonal throbs, and looking out for the needs of the "whole child."

That is the essence of middle schoolism as set forth in a stunning new Fordham report by Cheri Pierson Yecke. It's a jeremiad drawing upon gobs of evidence that show the middle grades are where U.S. student achievement begins its fateful plunge and where a growing number of other nations begins to outpace us.

You can access the middle school report here.


Instructivist said...

Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary of the report:

Middle schoolism is based on pseudo-scientific theories and
downplays academic achievement.

The middle school movement advances the notion that academic
achievement should take a back seat to such ends as self-exploration,
socialization, and group learning.

Middle schoolism proponents view the purpose of schools as putting
children in touch with their political, social, and psychological
selves, eschewing competition and individual achievement, and focusing
on identity development and societal needs.

Middle schoolism is partially based on the now-discredited theory
of “brain periodization,” which holds that “the brain virtually
ceases to grow” in children ages 12 to 14 and that teaching complex
material during that period will have damaging effects.

Author said...

I doubt the middle school is very effective at meeting the psycho-social needs of students either. The last thing students need at that age is to be bussed to a distance school, segregated with their peer group and taught in the impersonal, bureaucratic environment of a middle school.

Age 12-14 is when academic high performers begin to pull far enough ahead of their peers to require special instruction. Non-academic middle schools are damaging to this group of students - especially damaging to high potential low SES students.

There is an IB curriculum in our local urban public high school. They are concluding that the only way to make IB accessible to a more "diverse" student body is to begin the program in middle school.

I doubt very much that segregating this age group with their peers in large impersonal middle schools to which they must be bussed away from their neighborhoods, younger siblings and teachers who know them and their families well does anything to foster their development.