I graduated from high school in 1983. It was a pretty good high school, and I learned a lot there. This was partly because of the accidental presence of some unusually good teachers and partly because California schools were well-funded at the time.
Every day I dragged my ass out of bed and got to school for morning classes. With lunch and a couple breaks I did school stuff until 3something. This was an iron rule. Some kids with more money left campus during lunch to go to a restaurant or something, but most of us just didn’t leave campus at all. When there was a hole in the schedule in senior year, I got stuffed into “study hall”, where I read.
We had a lot to do. There was homework every day, and assigned reading and exercises from our textbooks, which we took home. There were frequent tests and projects. At the end of junior senior year, too, there were a few Advanced Placement tests. Since I was doing pretty well academically I took AP classes and passed I think three of these tests. I worked harder and learned more in my senior year in high school than I did in my first quarter at UCLA.
If you left campus, it was likely someone would notice and you’d get in trouble. We had a legendary vice principal, Jack “Bring ’em Back” King, who would drive down to the beach and haul surfer truants out of the water, stuff them in his Chevy, and put them , dripping and sullen, in class complete with wetsuits. School was pretty serious business.
There were the requisite number of hack teachers and administrators, some classes that were worse than useless, a fair amount of wastes of time, and the other things one expects from that level of education, but mostly a student went there all day, learned all day, and went home and did homework for a few hours daily.
My friends from around here who are 30 or younger went to a different kind of high school, and I’m not sure why.
First of all, attendance is optional now. The kids may be in class, or they may be at home, or on vacation with their parents, or doing some project or other, or just… not around. Kids can barely attend some class the whole semester and pass it. I see high school kids shopping at some mall at 11 am on a Tuesday. If their parents are going to Maui for a few days in February, they just pull the kids out and go. One high school here instituted a “ski week” because everyone disappeared that week every year anyway, and tried to tack the days on the end of the year. There was no decrease in days lost.
Since Proposition 13 (please see my screed here from a while back if you don’t know what that is), there’s been less and less money for education. Quite often there aren’t enough textbooks for the students, and more often than not there aren’t enough for students to take them home. I don’t understand how you do math homework in that situation. The non-sports extracurricular activities, especially music, are gone, so those are off campus. There seem to be less classes generally, so junior and seniors have these big gaps in their days, and no one locks them up in the study hall. It’s easier to take classes in college simultaneously (this is a good thing!), so many students go back and forth between two campuses. And finally the enforced extracurricular activities like D.A.R.E., required “community service”, kareer kounseling krap, and whatever latest Young Pioneers thing is they’re being forced to do takes hours out of the school day.
It doesnt seem like there’s that much homework, either. Kids cram for the AP tests (which give them higher than perfect GPAs, another bizarro new thing), but their own classes and homework they view with scorn.
From my outsider’s eye it looks like kids from 14-18 are just doing less school overall, and not doing so in any structured way. Some of this is good news. Study Hall was a horrible waste of time, and going to college classes instead of high school ones must be awesome if you’re academically interested.
With all the blather about how our children is not being educatated, though, it’s weird to see the kids spending less time in school total, less of that time being taught, less homework, less resources to actually learn (hello, books?), and less supervision of any kind.
And the teachers just suck. Horribly. This whole train of thought was started by a high-school age friend telling me that her English teacher borrowed her Spark Notes for Samuel Beckett because she didn’t know that stuff.