Rethinking American high schools Regarding "A call to radically rethink high school" (May 18): My observation as a parent of three high school students over the past 10 years leads me to agree with Leon Botstein's assessment that high school at best wastes the time of American adolescents and at worst actually harms them. All the signs he mentions of the average to lower-than-average student, the boredom, the inability to concentrate, the daydreaming, the restlessness, were evident to me.
Aside from the "corrupt, outdated, oppressive atmosphere and experience" that Mr. Botstein mentions, the social pressure can be crushing in high school. In an effort to fit in, young people often behave in ways completely foreign to the values in which they were raised. It was only during the long holiday break away from school and during the summer vacations that I "got back" the teens I had sent to high school - and this was an award-winning public high school.
Botstein's suggestion of a secondary school with grades 7 through 10, with graduation at age 16, addresses two other problems with the system: the too-short junior high school (grades 7 and 8), and the fact that the first two years of college and the whole of community college repeat the last two years of many high schools.
His groupings also make sense because a 7th grader and a 10th grader have more in common than a 9th grader and a 12th grader. Thirteen and 14-year-olds seem too young for the current high school and 17 and 18-year-olds, too old. Parents are asked to approve of activities completely appropriate for 16-year-olds but not for 13-year-olds.
In his18th year of life, a young American male could be given an after-school detention for petty infractions, or be given orders to "shoot to kill" in service to his country. There's something wrong with this system. We have the most technology of all time and the greatest potential to engage and challenge our young people in important ways. We know from study after study that the current high school system does not address the basic needs of this age group.
Nancy Koenig Davis, Glenview, Ill.
Botstein's challenge that "the American high school is obsolete and should be abolished," ought to be taken seriously. His suggestion that we bring adolescents into the world of work or national service may be nothing short of genius, for it would acknowledge that not all learning and not all teaching take place in a classroom setting. As a retired teacher, I find only one marring jolt: Botstein blames poor recruitment and poor training of teachers for the dilemma in which we find ourselves.
Why can't we all acknowledge what he refuses to say directly: The development of children in our society is an American social dilemma. How can he ask teachers to assume the task that parents can't complete successfully?
Barbara Benjamin, Tucson, Ariz.
Drugs and Boys Regarding "Using Drugs to Rein in Boys" (May 19): The writer cites some experts as saying that disengaged parents and insurance companies would rather have kids pop a pill than deal with the root causes through counseling and the family. I assert that the root cause of children experiencing difficulties in self control, self direction, and organization, is fundamentally neurological and cannot be influenced by counseling and family therapy.
Indeed, these interventions are helpful in maintaining families and coping with the additional stresses that children, families, teachers, and society suffer from as a result of their difficulty.
Melissa Perot, Doylestown, Penn.
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