Commentary Magazine


Schools or Prisons?

To the Editor:

When I came upon the article, “The Modern High School: A Profile” by Edgar Z. Friedenberg [November 1963], I visualized perhaps a discussion of how the present-day high school is trying to serve the needs of all kinds of students, or . . . the extent to which it was meeting the challenge of the space age. I expected to read about adolescents performing experiments in the laboratory or putting out the school newspaper . . . in a social studies class, . . . about teachers endeavoring to raise the reading level of culturally backward pupils or counseling perplexed youngsters about their future. Instead, I was startled to find the modern high school depicted as a near-concentration camp or prison.

The focus of Mr. Friedenberg’s criticism is the system of corridor passes. Would he have the schools allow students to roam the halls at will? Has he ever tried to teach in a noisy school? (Moreover, despite all the publicity today about the health hazards of smoking, the professor seems to want the schools to be more permissive toward this practice.) What does Mr. Friedenberg mean when he asserts that “compulsory school attendance functions as a bill of attainder against a particular age group”? Does he wish to repeal the attendance law and allow children to terminate their education at any age—this at a time when the country is in need of a population with higher educational levels?

Mr. Friedenberg believes that it is a tragedy that students do not usually resent the system of school controls. Of course they don’t. The serious-minded adolescent is more interested in getting into a good college, preparing himself for a satisfying job, or developing his abilities.

In short, what is most distressing is that Mr. Friedenberg has not made any constructive proposals as to ways in which the schools can manage large numbers of immature youngsters under a system different from the present one. His road is that of anarchy, not that of true freedom under law.

Saul Israel
Principal

Haaren High School
New York City

About the Author




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