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Hope for uniting US society rests with schools, says Carnegie educator

By Eloise LeitermanEducation editor of The Christian Science Monitor / September 19, 1983


''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.''

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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.''