Boston — ''I fly from New York to Guatemala in 24 hours and find myself sitting on the floor in a Mayan hut, where my son's mother-in-law is slapping out tortillas,'' says acclaimed US educator Ernest L. Boyer. ''That woman has great beauty of character; despite differences of language, we do communicate. The points of commonness are profound. All students should study the universals.''
Dr. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, asks much of the public school system in the United States. That is because he views education as the means not only for preparing young adults for career and college, but also for dissolving the ignorance that creates divisions in American life and in the world.
''The potential for powerful education is far greater than it's ever been,'' Boyer said in a Monitor interview just prior to the publication of his much-hailed book, ''High School,'' released last week. ''We could have within a decade the best-educated generation we've ever had.''
But, he said, the findings of the 30-month Carnegie Foundation study, published in book form by Harper & Row, indicate that high schools must change for the better - and right away.
''High School'' is packed with fresh ideas for how to do just that. Among its suggestions: requiring students to spend time in community service; allowing them to teach their peers, in order to encourage more young adults to enter the teaching profession; and relieving teachers of nonteaching duties such as lunchroom monitoring.
''School goals should focus on the mastery of language, on a core of common learning, on preparation for work and further education, and on community and civic service,'' the book urges.
The study of public high schools was initiated in 1980 at Boyer's suggestion, soon after he was named to head the Carnegie teaching foundation, an education policy study center established by Andrew Carnegie in 1905.
''High School,'' has been praised by US Education Secretary Terrel H. Bell as ''exceptional in its breadth and creativity.'' Its suggestions for improving teaching conditions have won the accolades of Mary Futrell, president of the National Education Association, and Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The investigation was restricted to public high schools, where 91 percent of the nation's secondary school students study. It highlights a number of specific educational needs:
Community service for students. In the interview, Boyer warned that students should not be labeled, some as future workers, some as thinkers, ''when in fact, life for all of us is a blend of both.'' More career guidance and mandatory community service would help students build transitions between school and life after graduation, he said.
The isolation of students from opportunities for service ignores their need to feel useful and responsible, ''High School'' asserts. So the study proposes that as a graduation requirement, every student earn a unit of credit in community service, such as work in nursing homes or penal institutions.
''This new unit would put emphasis on time in service,'' the book suggests. ''The program would tap an enormous source of unused talent and suggest to young people that they are needed. It would help break the isolation of the adolescent , bring young people into contact with the elderly, the sick, the poor, and the homeless, (and) acquaint them with neighborhood and governmental issues.''
A broad-based curriculum. Boyer advocates a core curriculum that he says must move from courses in separate disciplines to the integration of ideas later on. In addition to traditional courses in literature, history, mathematics, and science, the core should include foreign language, the arts, civics, non-Western studies, technology, the meaning of work, and the importance of health.
Boyer has strong reservations about computers in education. ''I feel grumpy about this current craze to buy a piece of hardware and figure out later how to use it. Students should be learning about the social implications of technology for good or ill.''
Mastery of language. He stresses the need for oral as well as written language skills.
''The importance of language sets it apart from the steady drumbeat for science and math,'' Boyer says. ''The top priority for education is civic understanding; this requires fluency in English for people living in the United States. You close off alternatives (for Hispanic and immigrant) children if you don't give them fluency in English.''
''High School'' identifies Spanish as the language that should be taught if only one foreign language can be offered, ''because that's the second language we're encountering in this country.''
He explains what he sees as the need for a global outlook in education: ''I reject wholly the notion that one's love for his country means he has to think of himself as superior. One can have abiding respect for his country, as for his family, and still have respect for others. After all, there are no limits to loyalty and affection. Schools dare not promote any other view.''
Required courses vs. electives. Like Mortimer Adler, (author of ''The Paideia Proposal''), Boyer says that all students should be exposed to a large body of common knowledge. But unlike Mr. Adler, who holds that the only elective in high school should be a choice of foreign languages, Boyer says about two-thirds of high school subjects should be required; one-third elective.
He would rely upon guidance services to help students make decisions about their futures. He also proposes that the US Education Department expand its national survey of schools to learn more about what students do after graduation and make this information available to schools for help with planning.
Help for teachers. To renew the teaching profession, Boyer proposes that high school teachers have a daily teaching load of four regular class sessions and one period each day for small seminars and helping students with independent projects. He says teachers should be relieved of noninstructional duties - monitoring halls, lunchrooms, recreation areas.
As a national goal, he says, the average salary for teachers should be increased by at least 25 percent beyond the rate of inflation over the next three years, with immediate entry-level increases.
Recruiting future teachers. Noting the need for better recruitment and preparation of teachers, he proposes a tuition scholarship program for top students, especially for those who plan to teach in science and math.
''Asking a bright student to teach other students is one way to start people early on a teaching career,'' Boyer said in the interview. ''Once in high school , and again in college, I was asked to take charge of a class in the teacher's absence. Definitely that made me think of myself as a prospective teacher.''
This year Dr. Boyer was selected in a national survey by his peers as the leading educator in the nation. Before serving at the Carnegie foundation, Boyer served as 23rd US Commissioner of Education.