People like me jabber about great high school teachers they have seen having enormous impact on disadvantaged students. But, Rose notes, those classroom magicians didn’t save everyone. The majority of students in their schools never get near a college. Rose says he has worked with students who were bad in high school, but are now deeply engaged in vocational community college courses. “Yet they resist, often with strong emotion, anything smacking of the traditional classroom, including the very structure of the classroom itself. This resistance holds even when the subject (textiles, history of fashion) relates to their interests.”Indeed.
College-oriented intellectuals like me who can’t fix anything mechanical beyond changing a battery don’t understand the conceptual depths of some vocational training, Rose says. The physics of electrical repair and the chemistry of hospital lab work “can give rise to the study of the arts and sciences,” he says.
This makes sense. Our side of the great high school debate will have to find ways that low-income students can afford college and support themselves and their families as they seek a degree. College programs that combine work and study make sense.
Even more important, and more difficult, is the failure of our side to produce a style of college-prep high school instruction that overcomes the visceral distaste many students have for sitting in a classroom and responding to a teacher at a white board or an overhead. There are high schools that appear to be doing this, like the Big Picture and High Tech High models. But they require unusually skilled teachers of a sort not easily found, and not being given that kind of training in our education schools.
But without a grounding in the habits of the middle class, starting in kindergarten, all those improvements on chalk-and-talk are as for naught.