“The worst years of our lives,” say Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen, and they propose a way to make it somewhat less awful: “give as much attention to emotions and values as they give to academics.”
How this works at a middle school in Providence:
At the start of every year, Paul Cuffee students come together to create and write the school’s social contract, which is a set of guiding principles to keep the school safe and running smoothly. Here’s this year’s version:
1. Respect the environment, yourself, and the community.
2. Cooperate: Teamwork makes the dream work.
3. Support each other even when the odds are against us.
4. Be yourself, do what you love, and try!
5. Be resilient: Fall 7 times, stand up 8.
When students do something — clogging a toilet, perhaps? — that falls outside these principles, middle school principal Nancy Cresser sits down with them and asks which one they think they’ve transgressed. “They know exactly which ones they’ve violated and they figure out how to fix it,” she says. Instead of storming off or pouting about the unfairness of the rules, Cresser says that Paul Cuffee students are OK with being held accountable. They’re the ones who created the rules, after all. So the students in question come up with a plan to fix what happened.
Social engineering? Sure. But at least it’s trying to foster a sense of accountability, which unfortunately isn’t quite as common as it used to be.
Then again, when Joanne Jacobs posted a link to this story, several commenters said that the basic problem with middle school is that it exists at all. One example:
One way to fix middle school is to eliminate it … it tends not to work, kids are treated like things to be feared vs being given leadership opportunities, mentoring, tutoring, opportunities in a K-8 school. The K-8 system works … it is the adults that have the issues and the students sense the fear.
I went through the K-8 cycle myself, though I am loath to consider any experience I may have had as baseline data. My kids went through middle school, and they seem relatively sane, at least compared to their old man. What about you?