While I was interviewing experts for my article, "Finding the Cure for Senioritis," p. 26, the one point I kept hearing was how senior year needs to reawaken the spirit and curiosity of students. As the father of two boys, ages 3 and 5, I reiterate what many educators already know: children are born with a natural curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.
So this begs the obvious question. What happens somewhere between the ages of 5 and 17 to extinguish this drive?
The answer, at least in part, is school.
Bard College President Leon Botstein says that children whose curiosity isn't supported, will lose it. He decries the sameness of schools, and the relentless testing called for in No Child Left Behind.
"Testing is to education what white noise is to music," says Botstein, who's also the principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra. "It's destructive distortion. ... High testers just become great lawyers. There needs to be real motivation."
He calls for a mixture of measurements to judge children and a way to give students the ability to achieve a sense of completion with their schoolwork.
And he's not alone. Jacquelyn Belcher, the vice-chair of the National Commission on the High School Senior Year, says the commission completed several focus groups before issuing its report last year. "You could hear the venom in [recent graduates'] voices about what they didn't get in school," she says.
Commission member and education author Nancy Sizer says, "Even kids looking very good [academically] are still wasting a lot of time. They're quite demoralized by the process."
Being outside the school system makes it easier to call for these changes.
The pressures of leading a district with a multitude of issues to worry about, including test scores that will be published in the local paper, sometimes makes it harder to step back and consider the big picture.
Yet as leaders, that's your job. Every issue, we publish stories of administrators who create innovative programs, often cobbled together by a variety of funding sources. They prove that it is possible to change the system and not sacrifice the achievement, and test scores, of students attending their schools.
Sizer interviewed about 150 children at 30 different schools for her book, Crossing the Stage: Redesigning Senior Year. "The universal feeling I have is students took the rite of passage seriously. We've got to get ready for that transition better than we do," she says.
Wayne D'Orio, Editorial Director