Turning Points …

Published on: Author: bette Leave a comment

Thirty years ago I attended a workshop called “Understanding the Middle School Circus.” My district was considering “reconfiguration.” That’s the term they used in the mid-1980’s when districts across the country were reassigning grade levels and changing junior high schools into middle schools. In my district and the K-6 elementary schools became K-5.  Middle school was 6,7,8 and our 9th-12th grade high school stayed the same.


The word “circus” seemed more apropos to what we teachers felt was going on in our district that year.  Not only that, although the term “middle school” was new to all of us, we certainly knew that “junior high school” could sometimes feel like a circus.


None of us, however, were aware of the Task Force that had been funded by the Carnegie Corporation to study the needs of possibly the most vulnerable population group in the country: early adolescents from 10-15 years old.  At that time these children were moving from self-contained classrooms where they had spent 6 years forming friendships in small classes with nurturing teachers (mostly women) into “little high schools” with virtually no preparation. Seven classes a day – lockers – gym classes with showers – homework assigned by teachers who were not in the least concerned with what the other 6 teachers had assigned – and, if they were lucky, one or two friends from elementary school in each of their classes.  No wonder many were overwhelmed and “dropped out” – figuratively if not literally.

All of that seems like ancient history … so why am I writing about it now?

It’s because of a book I just ran across. It was given to us at that workshop, but I’m sure I never read it because when I left that workshop I returned to my job that included 6 preparations for 7 classes.  I was carrying a “case load” of over 200 souls a day … with papers to correct for each class.


Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century is the report of the Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents, funded and published in June 1989 by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development: Carnegie Corporation of New York.


As I read though the 8 recommendations that Task Force urged educators and policy makers at all levels to follow, I realized that education has come a long way in 30 years.  While I wouldn’t say that any one of their recommendations has been accomplished, I can see that there has been some progress around every one of them.  In 1989 some people may have foreseen the massive changes that hit educators in the 1990’s, but most of us in the classroom did not.  Not only did Apple Computers launch a massive effort to place an Apple II computer in classrooms across the country, President Bush later called the 90’s the “Decade of the Brain” because of the unprecedented advances in neuroscience that has given us a vast amount of knowledge about how the human brain/mind learns.

Not bad for 30 years!

What I’d like to see now is for someone (Carnegie perhaps?) to reissue Turning Points and make it required reading for every Middle School teacher and administrator in the country!  Don’t update it.  Let’s just dig in and apply what we’ve learned since then to where we want to go from here!


(Buy several copies – used … they’re cheap ($ .01!) … and give them to every middle school teacher and principal you know.  Don’t forget superintendents and politicians who can really make a difference!)

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