catapult magazine

catapult magazine




Apr 06 2002
12:54 pm

So I’m a high school teacher who likes to think about how things could be better. If you had the chance to reinvent high school from the bottom up, what would it look like?


Apr 07 2002
09:38 pm

Naked snow angels would be a requirement. I’ll just make sure that doesn’t get left out.


Apr 10 2002
11:35 am

High school would look a lot like elementary school, but more. It would be made up of students seeking answers, who have never been deterred from this by bad grades. It would have teachers who were willing and able to show students how to learn, and who then would learn alongside their students. It would include all types of learning, just like elementary—auditory, visual, spatial, etc. There would be creativity. There would be failure. Subjects wouldn’t be split into artificial categories, and students would learn with a purpose (or purposes) in mind. Everything students did would be guided by the premise that they were seeking God.


Apr 17 2002
02:15 pm

what if the guy who wrote “It’s not Bad Education . . . Just Bad Math” volunteered at the christian school where his kids would go. instead of home schooling he could help work at the school and cut down the ratio of teachers to students and not raise the cost of tuition. this would be sacrificing his own kid’s educations, but if enough people did it, instead of homeschooling, things could really change. then when people see that it is working maybe there would be more people willing to pay more money and all the teachers could get paid. and then if there is more money we could give the teachers a raise and truely compensate them for the work that they do… just a thought


Apr 22 2002
08:02 pm

That’s a very interesting thought. While it would be a huge step forward for any school to have such a network of concerned, involved parents, it might be a daunting situation for the teachers. I can’t imagine dealing with 15 different opinions on the proper reaction to Billy coloring Suzy’s tongue black…

I really believe that the entire nature of school as it has developed is flawed. (Not to say that homeschooling is the logical second choice—there are problems on both ends of the spectrum.) I believe that we need to explore an entirely new way of doing education.

In answer to the original question of building a new school from the ground: it would have to have a focus on teaching people how to learn—and I’m not talking spelling and dodgeball. The atmosphere would be one of family—carefully developed and nutured so that, even before academics were mentioned, the students would have the tools to interact, solve problems, develop relationships, create unexpected solutions, and genuinely care for each person around them . From there, students would be encouraged and individually mentored (perhaps by trained volunteers, as you suggested) to pursue their interests and work through those areas that are difficult for them, receiving constant encouragment and guidance. Students of all ages would work closely with one another, with older students given increasing opportunities to aid in the teaching of younger ones.

At the Northwestern University Music Academy, we use a sort of similar philosophy to teach our piano students. Each student takes private lessons for 3 weeks, then comes together with other students around (but not necessarily identical to) his or her level of ability to share pieces, learn new concepts, compose pieces, learn to offer commentary on others’ playing, play games, and get to know the other students and other teachers in the program. Translating this type of experience into a full-time educational program would, of course, be difficult, but the results would be interesting.

Sidenote: I just realized that this started out as a high school thread…I guess markers and dodgeball don’t really apply. Oh well.


Apr 23 2002
02:41 pm

i would like to see a high school in which learning is based on experience. students of all ages could be put together in managable groups of 10-15 and every group would take a different field trip at the beginning of the week (an art museum, a bird sanctuary, a movie, a monastery, a play, the home of a famous author in conjunction with reading one of his or her stories, etc.). each student would be reponsible on that field trip for a list of questions given by the teacher (to teach observation and analysis skills), as well as beginning to formulate a thesis related to the topic of the field trip.

the rest of the week would be devoted to developing that thesis, researching answers and further questions using forms of research from simply asking another person in the school who might know to trying to make sense of scholarly journals. then, each student would write a paper on that thesis, present that paper to their group at the end of the week and receive feedback. at the end of each term, students would have a couple of weeks to review and polish their portfolios of papers toward the end of choosing their best paper and attempting to get it published. the school could even publish a journal of students’ papers.

academics would be inextricably integrated with “social education.” while groups would rotate teachers for each field trip, each group would have a mentor teacher, with whom they would typically remain throughout high school. also, the group would stay the same from year to year, with graduating students being replaced by incoming students. each school day would begin with the groups meeting with their mentor teachers for an hour or so to engage in an agreed upon worship activity. this activity would be different for each group according to the makeup of that group.

as for how to group students successfully, i haven’t really thought about that yet. but i think the inevitable problems that would arise among students who are in the same group would certainly be an opportunity for an experiential lesson in compromise and reconciliation.


Apr 23 2002
03:49 pm

Are you familiar with the Daystar Christian School in Chicago? They take a very experiential approach to learning—using the city as the classroom. For example, the 5th or 6th graders did a project on rainforests in which they visited the Lincoln Park Zoo 5 times over a few weeks. On the first visit to the rainforest exhibit, they picked an animal to study. On the second, after researching their animal, they observed its habits and lifestyle for an hour. On the third, they interviewed a zookeeper. I don’t remember what the fourth visit was for…but the project culminated in each child presenting their paper in front of their animal, with their classmates and zoo visitors as the audience. This is definitely a step in the right direction.


Apr 25 2002
12:59 am

Wow, a bunch of good thoughts. The issue of making the school more experiencial is a good one — though I think it also argues for amller schools. It is hard to take even the senior class of our high school (740 students in grades 9 – 12) just because it is a logistical nightmare. Also, you would almost need to hire someone as a field trip coordinator. There’s a lot of phone calling involved there. Hard work —though most worthwhile things are. That brings me back to the good point Jon made, though.

I think maybe we are on to something bigger here (I think the guy who wrote the feature article is too). Sometimes it seems like the societal emphasis on consumerism carries over to how we deal with our schools. Whether they are parent run christian schools or community run public schools, we get this individualistic attitude. For me it is summed up by the nightly new feature stories that tell you how to make sure you are getting your money’s worth from education, and warn you what to watch for in your school, and give you questions to ask your child’s teacher. It seems to be that this is not so much parent involvement as parent critique. More like a shopper looking critically at a brand of soap than a co-participant trying to figure out how to help.

I think this kind of attitude makes cooperative effort impossible. It seems to me that Chrisitan day schools depend upon that cooperative and sacrificial spirit. When i approach my calling to teach, I can honestly say that I try hard not to think in terms of what my job can give me, but in terms of what i can give God and my students through my job. When my child gets to school, I hope I can maintain that sort of thought.

Maybe school vouchers and tax credits aren’t the solution. Maybe more sacrifice (and more hard work) is.