A good education in pre-adulthood should be one of society’s top priorities. However, in recent times adolescent achievement levels have been at a plateau, which puts a lot of youth at odds with the modern and rapidly developing society. One reason is that the ability of young adolescents to think critically is often underestimated, with many schools conforming to a system of low expectations, which serves only to drive student achievement levels lower. Additionally, the transition to middle grade education often coincides with puberty, which can result in dramatic shifts in mental well-being and to declining achievement levels.
Thus, middle grade education should be made more appropriate for students’ emerging awareness of larger issues. Respect for each individual instead of the highly impersonal system typical of middle grade school should be established. There should be efforts to make the students feel that they are actually part of a group instead of just another “cog in the wheel.”
Among other things, a “common core” among different fields must be made visible to students. To students, middle grade education can seem to be a disjoint assemblage of unconnected fields. Thus, it should be up to the educators to create a more “integrated” experience.
Additionally, more students can succeed if learning becomes more cooperative, where a student can also learn by teaching fellow students; middle grade school should not be seen as simply a transition phase; in fact it is very important because a lot of other changes are happening, so there should be “solidity” in the school.
Teachers and the direct administrators of schools should also have more power over the changes that can take place in a school, as opposed to waiting for orders from higher levels of the government, which are powered by people who do not work directly with schools and thus may have a distorted perspective.
Additional important points are that the physical well-being of students should be deemed important; parents should also be deeply involved in the education of students, and that the school should be tightly integrated with the community.
Carnegie Corporation’s MGSSPI (Middle Grade School State Policy Initiative), a program of grants to schools adopting some of the above mentioned principles, has resulted in some significant improvements in middle grade school education. Students have improved in academic and personal levels.
Although most schools are not adequate for the needs of young adolescents, they have the ready potential to do so. With the right changes, our youth can have more chances of success in different aspects of their life.
While it is difficult to find flaws in the arguments presented in the article, one point I do not fully agree with is the empowerment of a school’s direct administrators. Granted, there is merit in the idea of giving more power to teachers and principles in effecting changes in a school, but there is also much potential for abuse and misuse of power. However, school administrators, teachers, parents, and perhaps even students can deliberate upon changes to the system, thus avoiding this problem. Changes can be voted upon in parent-teacher-student meetings, for instance.
From my perspective, there are three suggestions in the article that are more important than the rest. First, the relationships between different and seemingly disjoint fields must be made more visible—many students would certainly have asked others and themselves: “What does this subject have to do with what I want to be in adulthood?” An obvious way of showing the “common core” among diverse subjects is to require educators to explain why the student is required to learn the specific subject about to be taught to them, and how knowledge about the subject will affect their adult life, instead of simply teaching them without providing subject-specific rationale.
Second, learning should be more cooperative, and that the separation of school and home should become more blurred. Instead of promoting an “every-student-for-himself” attitude, students should be encouraged to help each other, and benefit by doing so. Students should have mini teaching duties, where a student’s grades would depend not only on his own learning, but also on the performance of peers. Not only will this encourage more active learning, but it will also boost team-mindedness. Related to this is the breaking of a large system into smaller and more manageable units, where a student can form close relationships with peers.
Third, education should be seen as a continuing process, a part of life, instead of something that belongs only in the classroom. An idea related to this (which was not adequately dealt with in the article) is the emphasis on more individualized learning. What I mean by this is that even in middle grade school (or even earlier) a student’s curriculum should be adapted to those he shows a propensity for and those he is interested in. While this sort of thing happens in higher-level education, younger students are commonly all expected to learn the same things without regard for their individual interests and abilities.