1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Friday, December 09, 2011

Horace's Compromise

Like Shirer's Rise and Fall, Theodore Sizer's Horace's Compromise was on my "to read" list for some time. I admit that I approached it expecting progressive claptrap about the problem of education being "the man" and how if we can all just learn to get along, education will (some day!) save us from ourselves or other hooey.

On the contrary

This is an amazing book on at least two counts. First, Sizer is able to take his experience of visiting hundreds of schools and distill what are undoubtedly dozens of teachers and students and create composite characters that ring true. Second, Sizer is profoundly realistic about the prospects of meaningful education reform and what that would really mean (versus the babble ABOUT reform coming from all sides).

The prologue alone is worth the price of the book (but it can be found for free at the above link) and I couldn't put it down after reading the prologue. What struck me is how Sizer is able to point out the obvious without condescension or undue criticism: he sees peoples' humanity throughout.

Sizer may not be my new BFF (well, he died two years ago, so that would make it impossible!) but he has given me a lot to chew on. I disagree with him on some things (such as his apparent willingness to equate a secular education with a complete education) but agree whole-heartedly with him on others: teachers must be treated as professionals and as human beings; students must be held accountable and told to figure out more on their own; primacy must be given to the school as a place of intellectual "work" not other things - no matter how noble.

Thoughts - stolen and derived - for a new school

Here's a rough list:
  • Promise to do less but really do it
  • Articulate clearly what is primary and what is secondary, and let the secondary stuff fall away if necessary
  • Avoid at all costs of the never-ending compromise of adding "just one more thing" to teachers' to do lists
  • Writing should be the center of schooling (Hmm, see page 104)
  • Coaching as a task of teachers (and tutors)
  • Teacher to student contact time - keep it somewhere between college professors and what it currently is (gravy, if my counting is right, it was about 32 on paper at MEC - patently absurd, Charlotte & Co.!)
  • Teachers draw out what is inherently interesting in their subjects (versus facile "relevance" or drill and kill)

Much to mull over and explore. Sizer has done something profoundly interesting. May he rest in peace.

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