Mayhem in the middle

Middle schools, like middle children, are just plain misunderstood. There is pretty clear evidence from the recent NAEP results that middle schools are where academic achievement in America falters and begins its accelerating decline, as the Los Angeles Times argues in a cracker-jack editorial this week. To our way of thinking, this is because middle schools (as author Cheri Pierson Yecke will argue in a forthcoming Fordham report) are usually places where academic rigor and achievement take a back seat to "personal development," social consciousness, and the inculcation of egalitarian principles. Middle schoolism is about curing the middle school student of his or her supposed dysfunction - which doesn't leave much time for learning (which the most radical proponents of middle schoolism believe is beyond the ability of early adolescents anyway). These nonsensical beliefs have become conventional wisdom. So, for example, Julia Steiny argues in the Providence Journal this week that middle schools are rife with bullying, and runs through the litany of ills to which middle schoolers are allegedly prey: cutting, purging, depression, suicide, homicide. . . . Clearly, the middle school is a veritable chamber of horrors. And in Delaware, the state department of education is blaming the abysmal results on state math tests on, yes, those darn middle schoolers, who are just more interested in "the right clothes, dating, and being seen at the mall - which doesn't leave a lot of time for algebra." Well, yes, from time immemorial, parents and teachers have known that early adolescents are surly, inconstant, and inattentive - but also can be engaged, creative, and energetic if someone gives them something to care about. We used to be able to educate these kids. Gadfly's answer to the problems of middle schools? Give them something serious to do!

"The neglected middle classes," Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2005

"The basics of school bullying," by Julia Steiny, Providence Journal, July 24, 2005

"For many kids, math is a low priority," by Cecilia Le, Delaware News Journal, July 24, 2005

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