Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, June 7, 2010

back in the day

Stanley Fish:

I wore my high school ring for more than 40 years. It became black and misshapen and I finally took it off. But now I have a new one, courtesy of the organizing committee of my 55th high school reunion, which I attended over the Memorial Day weekend.

I wore the ring (and will wear it again) because although I have degrees from two Ivy league schools and have taught at U.C. Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Duke, Classical High School (in Providence, RI) is the best and most demanding educational institution I have ever been associated with. The name tells the story. When I attended, offerings and requirements included four years of Latin, three years of French, two years of German, physics, chemistry, biology, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, English, history, civics, in addition to extra-curricular activities, and clubs — French Club, Latin Club, German Club, Science Club, among many others. A student body made up of the children of immigrants or first generation Americans; many, like me, the first in their families to finish high school. Nearly a 100 percent college attendance rate. A yearbook that featured student translations from Virgil and original poems in Latin.

UPDATE: I just noticed that when I posted this I didn't manage to include my comment on this quote. What I said was that Fish leaves out an important piece of information: while he identifies himself as the first in his family to finish high school, he doesn't describe his parents' attitude towards his education. My guess is that the parents of almost all the kids who attended Providence Classical High were deeply committed to their children's education and pressed them to do their very best, and then go on to the best college possible. I don't think schools as rigorous as that can succeed without the strongest possible backing of their strict and high standards by the parents of almost every kid in the place. At the end of his essay Fish pronounces his judgment on this kind of education: "Worked for me" — which seems to imply that it can and should be implemented widely so it can work for others as well. But that's true only where parental involvement is deep and parental standards are high.


  • Alan: While I want parents to care about their children's education, I'm afraid that what you say just isn't true. Read Larry Lezote's research on effective schools. Or Marzano's excellent meta-analyses. Schools can get an awful lot done without the parents.

  • Point well taken that "schools can get an awful lot done without the parents." However, I don't think they can get done the kind of education Fish had without parents. The demands are just too great. (I wonder how much homework those kids have each night?)

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