School then work/work then school/school then
Today, report after report claims that the public junior and senior high schools in large US cities are in very serious trouble. These schools, it is argued, are not meeting the academic or career needs of an enormous number of the teen-agers assigned to attend them.
The school buildings themselves are described as unpleasant environments at best. Those under strict controls generally have armed guards patrolling the halls; doors, behind which teachers confront skeleton-size classes, are locked.
Where such security measures are not in force, the scene is often pictured as one of mayhem. Graffiti besmear the walls, filthy bathrooms reek of nicotine and marijuana, class sessions either exude boredom or reduce themselves to marathon talk sessions.
Serious students in these inner-city schools sometimes find one another (and find the teachers for whom they have respect) and attempt to fulfill college-preparatory requirements with a minimum of hassle.
But many students just give up, opt out of the local public high school, and attend a nonpublic college prep school. Some stick it out -- fighting in many ways for their physical well-being as well as for a proper academic diet.
But what of the secondary student who isn't self-sufficient, and doesn't already have sound study skills? What of the student whose basic skills are weak, whose motivation is susceptible to the least common denominator, and whose home environment is not strong enough to make up for school deficiencies?
It is these students that recent studies have discovered are not being well served and need extra attention.
Whether the study group is made up of laymen, professional educators, or government civil servants, the same solution is highly recommended. After studying the problem -- noting the disturbed social climate of broken homes, poverty, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and racial prejudice -- it is highly recommended that all academic schooling be interspersed with job training and actual job performance.
Other solutions, of course, are recommended, but this need to provide both job and academic training appears in each report.
Either local public secondary schools should be job-referral centers or cities should create such centers.
If an inner-city junior or senior high school does not have the skilled personnel to provide career counseling -- to both in-school students and out-of-school, out-of-work youth -- then volunteers from city businesses and government agencies should be called on to help out.
One persistent claim by those who have studied the problem is that gains made in elementary school by middle-level students are dissipated at the secondary-school level. It is also said that the supports (as well as extra funding) which are available in most city elementary schools are not built into the secondary schools.
One city superintendent, who loses almost half his city's school-age population to nonpublic schools, maintains that one key problem is the apathy and indifference of his tenured male teachers and administrators. He says these men, whose own children generally attend nonpublic schools, have little incentive to do much more than maintain order in the buildings and are more than willing to have troubled students pushed or dropped out of school.
But, as recent reports document, this is a costly waste of a precious resource and not to be tolerated further.
One can insist that US secondary schools must provide for their academically weak students the very best teachers, who not only love working with them, but are skilled in ways to teach them. Also, as is repeatedly suggested, schools must make better use of the resources of their city -- museums, libraries, colleges, businesses, and social-service agencies.
At the same time, every student who wants and needs to learn good work habits and who wants and needs to have job experiences should be able to learn how to work and then put that learning into practice.
Schools themselves are not the marketplace for which the majority of students must be trained; hence government agencies (now employing nearly one adult in three) and the independent business sector must play a significant part in offering work experiences to junior and senior high school students.
Students deserve to learn what's required of a worker, how to carry out work-related instructions, how to handle routine assignments, how to develop pride in productivity, how to use one's talents effectively, and they should, of course, be taught new skills.
Either schools (and I urge that the schools take on this responsibility) or some other city agency must know each high schooler, each dropout, and each graduate well enough to provide continual career and academic counseling.
This seems a worthy goal.
City junior and senior high schools should be exciting places -- filled with adults wanting to help and students wanting to learn.