Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I did not write the following as an article to be published in The Atlantic Monthly. I wrote it as a proposal for a Gates Foundation funded small school to be established at North Eugene High School in Eugene, Oregon.

Unfortunately, my proposal was considered a Jonathan Swift inspired joke by a key teacher and a key administrator whose combined influence effectively ruined any possibility of due consideration. What I did not know at the time was that my proposal had been dismissed from consideration before it was even available for consideration. Consequently, my committee of one worked hard to develop an idea that has literally had no audience until now.

Watching and wondering in awe and horror, I have come to the conclusion that America’s high schools have fallen victim to good intentions, the sort that are known to pave the road to hell. It is a sad observation to make, because the enemy in the battle to reinvent our schools is no less than those who truly want to be our best friends in the process: our public schools’ teachers and administrators.

How can this be? A pondered thought reveals the obvious: revolutions are not the work and accomplishment of happy people. Indeed, anger and hostility of an abiding sort are the seed stock of upside-down change. No one becomes a high school teacher or administrator except those who at least found their own experience as a student at that level to be tolerable.

It is not a stretch to state confidently that most high school teachers and administrators actually loved their years as high school students, and that their career choice was born out of a desire to keep the love alive by sharing it with successive generations of students. The accomplishment fostered by this reality is a deeply entrenched status quo; nothing changes in an environment in which happiness for the past defines the present.

I hated high school.

Steven A. Sylwester
June 8, 2005

* * *

It is now six years later as I write this. In ten days, I will celebrate my 57th birthday, and yet I choose to use the above as my Prologue for what follows below. Many will think that wisdom has not been the blessing of my life, because they will wrongly judge that my Prologue tease should be describing niceties, not wrath. But wrath is what belongs here. American public schools are in a terrible mess right now, and certainly nothing about that has improved in the last six years; if anything, the mess has worsened.

I do not consider myself to be a savior, but I am a voice that deserves to be heard. Why? Because I speak the contrary truth — the inconvenient truth. I care out of personal pain and suffering, not out of happy satisfaction. Consequently, many would think me to be the very last person to ever design a school.

My first attempt at designing a school was School U.S.A. (SUSA) in 2005. In the six years since completing that first design, I have designed two other schools: NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences (NAPS) and Edison High School, Eugene, Oregon. Each of the three schools is different, but they all focus on serving the needs of the exceptionally bright student in a public school setting. Though NAPS is specifically a national public high school, it is limited to locations where it can be hosted by a public research university. SUSA is different in that its model could be implemented at any and every public high school in America.

Please read my entire School U.S.A. proposal blog, and then share it with others. Mine is not the last word, but some of what I have written might serve to be the first word in provoking some much needed changes in U.S. public education at the high school level.

Steven A. Sylwester
June 2, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment