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Volume 19, Number 2
March/April 2003

Keeping It Real

How can we transform high school so that students engage in—and not just prepare for—the "real" world?


"There seems to be this perception that in order to get the most out of high school, you have to take the most AP classes, when there is actually so much more that can be learned. . . . As shut off as it seems, high school is actually the real world, if you allow it to be."

This reflection by a student at Evanston Township (Ill.) High School (ETHS) recalls John Dewey's admonition that "education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself." Too often, high school, especially senior year, seems irrelevant to students and disconnected from the "real world." Students at ETHS have made the compelling point that by treating high school as simply a time of preparation for life, the importance of senior year is diminished, especially when they have already accomplished their goal of getting early admission to college, finding a job, or enlisting in the military.

At ETHS—a racially, culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse high school with 3,200 students located just outside Chicago—we have tried to find ways to remove the artificial boundary between high school and the real world. To this end, we have developed workplace internships, included a senior project in all second-semester courses, offered an array of challenging multilevel electives in English and history, and passed a graduation requirement for the class of 2006 that requires students to select a "focus"—a three-course sequence in science, world languages, fine arts, or career pathways. One of our most successful efforts has been the invention of the Senior Studies program. Senior Studies has prompted us to reexamine not just the senior year, but the entire high school experience.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    M.W.Kirst.“Overcoming the High School Senior Slump:New Education Policies.” Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2001.

    National Commission on the High School Senior Year (final report).“Raising Our Sights: No High School Senior Left Behind.” Washington, DC: National Commission on the High School Senior Year, October 2001.

    National Commission on the High School Senior Year, 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Room 4W307, Washington, DC 20202; 202-260-7405; fax: 202-205-6688.