Middle School as Boot Camp for Life?

CCC camps in Michigan; the tents were soon rep...

Civilian Conservation Corps Camps in Michigan

Want an interesting read about what middle level schools could (and should be)? Take a look at “How to fix the mess we call middle school” by Washington Post education writer, Valerie Strauss.

The title may not draw you in, but ignore it and start reading. Strauss argues for a type of school that responds to the needs of every young adolescent…not more test prep…”but a cross between summer camp and the Civilian Conservation Corps camps with plenty of physical activity, structured groups and time with peers, with a little formal education thrown in.”

Strauss suggests that middle school be a “boot camp for life” with more physical activity, hands-on, and minds-on learning. Also, a focus on  service learning to teach responsibility and give young adolescents the opportunities they crave, to do something meaningful for others. Other excellent ideas include more attention to the arts, focusing on issues relevant to this age group (nutrition and obesity for example), learning about financial literacy through running small businesses, and much more.

All good ideas, yet hardly new. Collectively, this type of school would look very different from  the “keep ’em in their seats, quiet, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter” 1950s school model that is the “default” setting for K-12 schools in the U.S. (By the way,  in the last 10 years, NCLB,  the standards’ movements, and a focus on assessment has seriously impeded students’ learning.) Do you ever wonder why we all-too-often fall back on a model with no proven record of success?

We won’t take everything Strauss says literally, but her ideas give insights into the developmentally responsive schools for young adolescents we’ve been talking  about for 50 years. Many Maine middle level schools have programs built on these same principles…where students are actively engaged, excited about learning, and ready to make a difference in their schools, towns, and communities. Aren’t these the attributes and skills that we want all our kids to have…and know…and use?

One more thing to remember. Young adolescents and their unique needs don’t go away when we house them in buildings with younger and older students…not called middle schools. Changing the grade configuration of a school isn’t the answer. Strauss hits the nail on the head…”The sustained experimentation with middle school-age students has continued because schools have failed to meet the emotional and academic needs of adolescents.”

We know what makes a difference…do we have the will to provide the schools our young adolescents need?


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2 Responses to “Middle School as Boot Camp for Life?”

  1. Mary Callan Says:

    So, as a very passionate former middle school educator who was continually defeated in attempts to achieve this vision of educating young adolescents, I wonder how we can sustain “the will to provide the schools our young adolescents need”? How do we engage the next generation of middle level educators and support them so that they persevere?

  2. Ed Brazee Says:

    Ouch! You are exactly right, Mary. But I remember all the excellent work you and your colleagues did over the years and what a difference it made to your students. So, we know it works. And just maybe, this next time it will have more “staying power” and we won’t have to reinvent middle schools again and again and again.

    Several years ago, I was intrigued by a Maryland school district I was consulting for, as they worked mightily to implement in their high schools, the very elements that were under attack in their middle level schools—personalized learning, student voice, integrative curriculum, and a culture of advocacy. Go figure!

    I think it is worthwhile to mount the effort again…and that is what we need to help the next generation with.

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