Book Notes for My Future Selves: Horace’s School by Ted Sizer

For background, on the series read this.  All posts in the series can be found here.

Horace’s School, more than any other, will be the book that most influences my thinking as we plan and grow Harvest Collegiate.  I have to admit, I have little patience for talking about schools with people who haven’t read it.

For me the “Teacher”

  • The descriptions of Exhibitions throughout the book are better than almost anything I have ever designed.  I need to come back here for ideas every time I plan a course.

For me the “School Designer”

  • I’ve never had clarity around what I’m supposed to teach handed to me.  Sizer reminds why this is so important: “The necessary condition…is clarity about goals.  Teachers and students must know what is to be expected and at what standard.  The goals that are set must respect the integrity of the destination — say, the ability to understand human emotions and to make constructive use of that understanding — and that of an individual, allowing her to present her grasp in the way most powerful for her.  When this destination is clear, many roads to is achievement can be mapped” (43).
  • I go back and forth with how completely I agree with this, but it’s a powerful message to keep in the front of my mind at all times: “We believe that the school’s central focus must be on the intellect, on helping each young citizen learn to use his or her mind resourcefully and well.  Other enterprises, however worthy, that conflict with this goal must yield” (142)

For me the “Professional Developer”

  • A great quote to share with teacher who lecture too much: “It is a further truism that sermons do not work well in engaging us (we are expected to listen passively) or in taking into account the particular spark that each of us might strike (there is one message, one text, responsive only to the minority of listeners who are ready for that particular message).  Learning by listening is inefficient for much of serious education.  The fact is, however, that the most used pedagogy in high schools is ‘telling,’ either by us teachers or by our equivalent in the form of films, videos, and textbooks.  While it has its uses some of the time — narrative when employed well is a powerful tool — as a central pedagogy it is demonstrably inefficient (though it may be practically necessary to control students whom we do not know well and who come at us for brief periods in large numbers).  We bore young people.  And they do not learn well” (85-86).

Sizer, Theodore. Horace’s School: Redesigning the American High School. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.

Responses or questions to any of the notes/quotes are very welcome and appreciated.