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[Susan notes: If we got behind the curriculum for middle schoolers that Strauss recommends--and demanded this variety for our kids--we could bring down Race to the Top and National Standards.]

Submitted to Washington Post but not published

Dear Valerie Strauss

In "Turn Middle School Into 'Boot Camp for Life,' you offer an excellent argument against Race to the Top and National Standards. As a longtime teacher of 7th and 8th graders, I can also tell you that you are right on target about their needs--and how ridiculous and damaging the current "rigorous" curriculum is.

I wish someone would listen. The course Secretary Duncan is setting us on is particularly destructive for middle schoolers. For all their bravado, they are sensitive. And terribly needy.

I love your suggestion: "What if kids went to work at a homeless shelter every day for several months? " This acknowledges the fact that as troubling and troublesome this age is, it is also the age that a great social conscience emerges--if schools make room for it.

I taught roughneck 7th and 8th graders in upstate NY, and devoted the entire book budget to coupons redeemable for paperbacks at a local bookstore. So kids definitely chose their own books. (My boss said we'd better hope the board of ed never found out.) People from state ed came to see what was going on because the reading scores went up so dramatically. They asked me what "program" I used. I said each kid got to buy a book every month at the bookstore. They were baffled.

Thanks for opening this discussion.

Susan Ohanian is a longtime teacher and the author One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards.

Susan Ohanian

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