“If you love bungee jumping, you’re the middle school type.” So starts Peter Meyer’s article,The Middle School Mess, in the winter 2011 edition of Education Next. I read that line and was immediately transported back to my time teaching middle school math in the South Bronx in the early 1990s. Kids with raging hormones, barely in control of their growing bodies, emotions swinging wildly from joyful exuberance to blazing anger to intense sadness. And me, 22-years-old, trying to teach them fractions, decimals and algebra. Fun times. The article goes on to cite research on whether middle schools can be successful. Or, as Cheri Pierson Yecke posits in her article, Mayhem in the Middle, that middle schools are “where academic performance goes to die”.
So should we just bite the bullet and eliminate middle schools?
I loved middle school and teaching middle-school aged kids. They were still full of the wonder of discovery, and as a teacher, I could shape and mold their views of the world. At the same time, they were old enough to understand sarcasm. I needed that. I couldn’t have taught elementary school and I tip my hat to those well-rounded, kind, energetic, and really really really really patient people who choose to do so.
I loved middle school and teaching middle-school aged kids. How inspiring to see them connect math to the future they envisioned for themselves. Or when they solved complex problems with a child’s unique vision. Like the 7th grade girl who, in 15 seconds, without putting pencil to paper, solved this problem: “You have 100 animals. Some are chickens. Some are rabbits. There are 360 legs. How many are rabbits.” When asked how she did it, she replied “I imagined all the rabbits standing on their back legs like people. So all 100 animals had 2 legs on the ground. That’s 200 legs, which means 160 legs in the air and that’s 80 rabbits.” I would still have been writing “2x+4y=360”.
I loved middle school and teaching middle-school aged kids. Of course I loved my Palm Pilot too, but I still got rid of that piece of junk when it just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
So I’m going to put my consultant training aside that tells me to run the numbers, and just speak from my own experience. I would get rid of middle schools. I don’t think it makes sense to take 11-14 year-olds, when they are going through a huge physical and emotional change, and put them in a new school environment with a new type of schedule and a less nurturing environment. I don’t think it makes sense to isolate them where they have no younger students who will look up to them as role models, and no older students to model their behavior after. I don’t think it makes sense to perpetuate a school structure that often leads to behavior issues that get in the way of teaching and learning. So my vote would be to get rid of middle schools and have more K-8 or K-12 schools. After all, we all know what happens to a bungee cord if you put too much strain on it. It snaps.