Learning differently

Two years ago, writer Marjorie Coeyman interviewed Bard College President Leon Botstein about his proposals to abolish high school - or at least seriously rethink it.

What resulted was what we call "the story that never goes away." Readers responded in droves, often decrying high schools' rigidity, ranking of athletics ahead of academic achievement, and social constraints. E-mails still trickle in as people discover the story on the Web and get fired up anew.

Last week, Marjorie went to see some of Dr. Botstein's words in action at a radical new high school (story, right) that will allow students to finish by the end of 10th grade and plunge into college work for the next two years.

It's a bold step in an era of much talk but little action about changing high school. High schools will be serving record enrollments, in terms of both numbers and diversity, by 2005. Yet schools typically operate as they have for the past half-century - leaving many kids spending overtime in a culture often not conducive to intellectual growth.

A new Brookings Institution study backs up that view. Analysts asked foreign exchange students to assess US high schools. Large majorities said classes were easier, schoolwork less time-consuming, math less emphasized, and sports and jobs far more important in the US than at home. The foreign students often linked liberal-arts study to job success more than their US peers.

The problem isn't teens, the study says; it's a culture that doesn't send strong messages about the value of learning. What's needed? Adults can stress to teens "the fundamental importance of improving one's mind, not only because it's the key to living a productive and fulfilling life, but for its intrinsic worth."

E-mail newcomba@csmonitor.com.

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