Montessori principles might be more helpful than report cards

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2008

I am seventeen. I attend Juneau-Douglas High School. I live in downtown Juneau.

I have a middle class family and slightly below-average grades due to my lack of dedication to the work. I don't really drink, party or involve myself in the drug scene. During school I try to stay on my teachers' good sides. I avoid causing any unnecessary disruptions. I am a respectful person. I have never possessed drugs or been in a fight.

I, for the most part, understand how our schools need to keep order. I don't, however, understand why they need to invade privacy, limit use of the bathrooms, stifle imagination, destroy creativity, and, all in all, suffocate what makes us human.

I know that teachers need to evaluate and grade our progress as educated individuals, but every time I see a report card (good or bad), I feel that I have been reduced to a number, and there is no way that a number could ever portray a person's capabilities.

In fact, many of my teachers tell me that they dislike this system of grading students and that it is frustrating to try to measure growth and curiosity (the things that matter) with traditional grades.

There is a difference between evaluation and grades, but the system and even colleges demand a letter or a number. Sometimes it seems that the teachers are just as trapped in the system as we are.

Wouldn't it more helpful and relevant to receive narrative feedback about what our teachers observe our strengths and weaknesses are? Does "B" tell me anything other than that I turned in most of my work?

Under some circumstances, I wouldn't really mind being given a percentage grade on my performance. It's nice to know how well I am doing on certain skills.

The problem is that grades are based on who I am in the worst possible learning environment - overcrowded classrooms; six stressed-out teachers a day, each with different rules and expectations; hardly any hands-on learning or one-on-one with our teachers; and a huge lack of relevance. On top of all that, there's the endless ocean of ridiculous teenage drama.

Under those circumstances, there is no way that a grade should ever be taken seriously or looked upon to determine who I am. It's more a letter to tell how obedient I am after my spirit has been strangled or how well I follow orders when my imagination is locked away.

School is designed to be an environment that stimulates the minds and creativity of its students. For some reason, current institutions seem to be playing the role of a day care, keeping us occupied until someone else can take the burden. On top of that, no one wants to be the babysitter of 1,500, or more, young adults every day who are more than capable to think for themselves.

With two new schools, it seems like the community has the chance to really change how we are taught and how information is delivered. High school is a time to figure things out and to get ready for the next big step in life, whether it's to be college, the work force or trade schools.

If schools are supposed to prepare us for the "real world," then why are we separated by our birthdays, and why are subjects divided? I don't know any adult who works only with people the same age or who only uses math for 75 minutes and then uses English skills for 75 minutes. Are they told what kind of people they are by little bubbles on a standardized Scantron test?

I attended Montessori from preschool to eighth grade. Montessori is a hands-on learning experience where you learn by experience. There is no letter grading. There is no report card. The student evaluation is given orally by the teacher to the parent or guardian.

I disliked Montessori for caring about me, but now that I'm a student in this school, I would give any thing to get back in an environment where they had time and support to care about me.

• Sam Buck is a junior taking correspondence classes who only attends Juneau-Douglas High School for Ali McKenna's "Writing for Publication" class. He is an avid snowboarder who enjoys Eaglecrest Ski Area. Jackie Koerperich assisted Sam with this editorial.

From the Hallways is a column showcasing the thoughts and opinions of students in McKenna's high school journalism class and Sarah Brooks' Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School writing workshop.

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