Ten things we may be doing wrong in middle school

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Not an accusation, because we all do far too many of these things, they are norms that attack children, especially our most vulnerable kids.

10. We start the school day too early. Listen, we begin our secondary school day around 9.00 am and that’s still too early. Adolescents do not share body clocks with either adults or younger kids, and they don’t tolerate the rest of our nonsense well when they’d rather be in bed.

9. We want them to sit still in uncomfortable chairs. And honestly, no one wants to do that — unless you are part of some religions that celebrate discomfort. Kids, especially young adolescents whose bodies are changing rapidly, need to find places to sit, lie down, or stand that make them able to focus. And they need to move to keep their brains active.

8. We deny them full access to daylight. So many middle school classrooms — across the country — feature a ‘special’ feature, an enormous area dedicated to the teacher’s comfort. I recently saw one that measured almost 140 square feet, with a presidential size desk, a rug, many file cabinets and shelves, a virtual tiny house — and a tiny house parked in front of one of the two none-too-large windows. That’s crazy, but so often teachers claim the best spots in the room, they claim the daylight and the view — or — they shut it out with blinds, posters, and piles of crap on windowsills. Stop it. Children need sunlight, they need — at times — to look out windows. Please let them.

7. We keep them inside. A corollary to number 8 — children need fresh air and sunlight. They need to run, they need to jump, they need to play. Let them outside, to play, to read, to talk, to study the natural world.

6. We want them to read what we want them to read. We still see ourselves as the transmitters of culture, pouring the canon into our young protégés. But kids have never wanted that, and all we’ve ever accomplished has been to make most kids hate books and literature. So make great stuff available, bring great stories to class, but stop forcing books on kids.

5. We interrupt them all day. Change classes, listen to this announcement, change classes again, listen to that, change classes again… We shatter kids’ focus minute by minute and then complain about their attention spans. Let kids follow their passions and you’ll see incredible focus, and incredible learning. And they won’t ever need to do homework — though they just might want to.

4. We separate the world of knowledge into bizarre slivers of meaningless trivia. You have to get old before you can pretend the knowledge is separated into silos that never connect. You have to get old before narrowing the focus of your vision, before limiting the possibilities of what you can learn, might start to make any sense. Our kids are not old, and they need to learn in connected ways.

3. We set silly, even stupid, deadlines, and make life really difficult. “Strict deadlines only serve to reproduce the inequalities of access and inclusion,” noted a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and this is even more so in K-12 where those deadlines are used clumsily and inappropriately against struggling kids.

2. We require homework, we grade based on whim, we give out zeroes. Kids spend all day in school, do they really need to stay inside all evening doing busy work? Please, respect those children whose home life isn’t Leave it to Beaver, and respect the right of all children to have free time. Then, let’s face it, 90% of the time a kid’s grade says far more about the teacher than the kid, especially when a teacher gives out punishment grades, that dreaded negative 60, that sinks kids.

And 1. We act as if the school belongs to the adults. It doesn’t. We work for our children. The school is theirs. The classrooms are theirs. When we make decisions based solely on the paradigm, “What is best for children?” the whole education system changes.

  • Ira Socol
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