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How to Choose|a Good School

It's decision time. Admissions departments across the land have made their choices. Now it's time for the chosen few to send in deposits for next year.

I can't tell you what college to go to, but I can help you choose the right elementary or secondary school.

Look out for "enriched curriculums." Curricula. That might be hard these days, as pretty much everyone is enriching their curriculum. I'm still trying to figure out how you enrich a curriculum. Do you plan a course, then add a movie? Plan a unit, then bring in donuts? Add butter?

Look out, too, for "comprehensive" programs. I've taught American Lit for 25 years. Some day I hope to teach a "comprehensive" American Lit class. But that day will probably never come, as I see no way - nor reason - to include every American writer of the past 400 years in a 36-week course.

What else could a comprehensive American Lit class include, unless the term is simply there to glitter? It usually is.

Beware places that teach "the whole child." We had an English teacher a while back who taught only the lower left quadrant of his students, and he was pretty boring. But he's gone now.

I can't say I ever remember getting less than a whole child in my 29 years here.

They come in whole and I teach 'em that way.

Flee as fast as you can from any place that offers "experiential learning." How else could anyone learn anything? Even sleep is an experience. What would be impressive would be "non-experiential learning." Expensive too, what with the sensory-deprivation chambers ...

And speaking of experience, watch out for schools that promise your kids will "experience success." I'm teaching Plato's Dialogues these days, and I noticed that Socrates never let his students experience success. Socrates won the argument every time.

He never let his students make a mobile, or paste together clippings from The New York Times instead of answering the question. He never made them break into small groups, either. Socrates wouldn't have lasted for a week under a school administrator.

Shun the school that claims to be "student centered." Granted, most colleges these days are more about research than teaching, and merely tolerate undergrads as a necessary evil. But elementary and secondary schools are by nature student-centered, even when teachers are just taking attendance and handing out worksheets. It's the students who are marked absent or present, and the students who get the worksheets. Thus ...

It's not that places that talk like this are necessarily bad schools. Your children may go to one and have experiences. They may have enriched experiences, nay, enriched comprehensive experiences. But an organization that promotes itself through jargon, with vague, cloudy terms is probably an organization with vague, cloudy thinkers. Your children will be passed along, probably rewarded, for their own vague, cloudy thinking, and for mastering jargon.

I know, I know ... "That's fine, Mr. Glass-Is-Always-Half-Empty. Now you've told us what to look out for. But what do we look for?"

Read the stuff the school hands out and look for the words "read," "write," and "think." If a school promises your kids will be doing those things, they'll be fine there. Go ahead and send them the money.

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