Taking the Lead: An Interview with Larry Rosenstock (Transcript)
Larry: The essential elements I would list as several integrations. You’re integrating students across social class. As Thomas Jefferson said “The purpose of public education is to create a public.” You’re integrating head and hand, MITs motto and a place like this and John Dewey’s point that understanding drives from activity. Making and doing things is a very engaging way and you’ve got to engage them first. You’re integrating school and community, you don’t want to warehouse kids away from the world outside them, the world that they’re preparing to enter as young adults. You want to have lots of people coming in like we do here and you want the kids going out on internships, doing community service etc. etc. So you want the walls to be as permeable as possible and no longer to be the citadel apart from community like the very first schools were uh.. one thousand years ago. And finally the integration of secondary and post secondary. Some people well intended and say we should have programs for non college bound but having taught carpentry which is presumed to be one of those programs, the problem with that is that if you create a program for the non college bound, at the end of the 8th grade the decision you make about who goes into them is based on socioeconomic predictors of the education and economic level of one’s parent who might not be doing it consciously but you’re doing it. So you’re deciding by creating a program for non college bound that someone’s not going to college. But my hypothesis is that those kids who ultimately won’t go to college and some will not are better served if they’re not being segregated from those who are and not being segregated from programs that expect that they will be. That’s why we’ve got a hundred kids accepted to college 100%, 99.5% participating in college, 70% going to four year colleges, 50 to 55% first generation college entrants. That’s why we’re getting those results because we’ve got that integration across all those four integrations.
You’ve got tech and you’ve got academics and you’re taking the methodology of tech which is group performed, team taught, experiential applied, expeditionary you’re producing and the content of academics, literacy and numeracy, [inaudible], all the things that kids need to know and you’re trying to wed the pedagogy of tech, not the content with the content of academics that’s really the purpose of sort of restructuring and getting schools like this. That’s MIT, head and hand is the motto of MIT.
Why is it that your average kid regardless of socioeconomic or educational background, if given an MMO or video game, computer game would left to their own devices play with it for 10 hours a day for 14 months, even though it was fraught with failure, frustrations, setbacks and successes but going through and persevering. And some of us think isn’t there something that we can take from that pedagogically if we were to change the nature of the transaction and so there’s a lot of opportunity there so at High Tech High from the beginning we’ve said that you can’t play video games unless you made them here and they can’t be violent and they have to be educational. I want kids again producing not consuming, I want kids making, making those things.
So here we have fewer blocks of time and we integrate art into physics and into biology by having kids publish books, by having kids create documentary films instead of saying well every 45 minutes you’re going to jump up and run around. So there’s time to do things, seriously. The other thing is by having small teaching teams of a teacher, one teaches math/science, the other one teaches humanities combined that the two of us together have 50 kids in a seven period day I teach six out of seven, I got 28 kids in a class. I’m teaching 180, 190 kids at one time as opposed to 50, tremendous benefit to that. If you want to integrate pedagogy of technology with the content of academics and have kids be producing things and be doing it in an interdisciplinary fashion, teachers need to meet with each other. If you go into a school that says they’re doing that and I have visited schools in 38 states, everyone says they’re doing it and then you say well do your teachers meet with each other, they say no. I said oh well got a plane to catch. So we knew that we needed to build that in. So in my school back east we had a group of teachers that met first period and a group that met fourth period of a seven period day. Teachers who met fourth period randomly assigned to first or fourth over three years. The ones who met fourth period talked about what Billy just did wrong and the ones who met first period were able to talk about three years from now, it’s something about human nature and so here when we built High Tech High we said we’re going to have people meet every morning of the year in different teams. So on Friday everyone in the whole school meets, on Wednesday they look at student work, on Tuesday and Thursday the teachers who share the same kids at the same time that year, they meet etc. etc. So we have different configurations of common planning time which allows people to feel like and behave like they’re treated professionally.
You want to treat kids with respect and kid’s antennae are very well tuned to pick up contrivance and fakery and things that are not fair and not just so you don’t have kid’s bathrooms in adult bathrooms, you just have bathrooms. You don’t have PA systems that go off throughout the day making foolish announcements of who should come to the office where it feels like quazi bus station/police station. If kids need to go to the bathroom, they get up and go to the bathroom and just little things, a lot of little things that all add up because as Voltaire said, suspicion invites treachery. If you treat kids with respect they’ll be respectful.
A lot of people say well they come in and say well we can’t do this because we don’t have the computers or we can’t do this because of this or we can’t do this because of that and I think that actually you can and we did this exercise yesterday and sort of a gift to whoever might be listening to this called the most memorable learning experience exercise. It’s simple, you’re in a cafeteria, you’ve got 100 people from your community, teachers or whomever and they’re sitting in tables with five or six or seven to a table and you say to everybody, would you please just spend five or ten minutes writing down your two most memorable learning experiences from your high school years. They do that and they you ask them, would you please all discuss at your table those memorable learning experiences and come up with the key characteristics that defined what was an important significant memorable learning experience for you all. And then you’re going to get up at each table and share those and report back to us and I’m going to be up with this chart here and I’m going to write down what they were. I’ve done this in about 28 cities, I’ve done this with my colleagues many times, we did it yesterday with these architects. I could several pages back on that flip chart I’ve been tempted sometimes to write down like a card trick person, what they were going to say because I know what they’re going to say. What they say is it was a project, it involved community, it had fear or failure, it had recognition of success, it had a mentor, it had a public display of work. It had all of the things that at this point that High Tech High is based on. It had all of the things that I’m talking about, so then you respectfully ask a group of teachers, really respectively say well this was not externally imposed on you, the midwifery that we just did was about your own most memorable learning experiences. How does this comport with the way you teach? And if it doesn’t comport with the way you teach, what can we then do to get you teaching the way that you yourself learned? Again it wasn’t imposed on you, this came from within you. That’s a great place to start with communities, it’s a great place to start with teachers. I think that what we’re doing is really obvious.