Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Horace's Resurrection

In the closing years of the last decade, my father-in-law, Ted Sizer, whose struggle with cancer ended in 2009, worked on a book in which he tried to distill a life's work in education reform -- one most vividly documented in his famous trilogy of books Horace's Compromise (1984), Horace's School (1991) and Horace's Hope (1996) -- into a vision of high school for the twenty-first century. When he died, my mother-in-law, Nancy Sizer, the author of a number of books herself and with Ted, promised to finish the project and shepherd it into print. I'm happy to report that both of them achieved their goal, which takes the form of the newly published The New American High School, which was issued last week by the well-known education house Josey-Bass. (Nancy wrote the introduction, which includes a foreword from Ted's dear friend collaborator, Deborah Meier.)

The  New American High School, which begins, literally, with an overview of the place of high schools on our national landscape, touches on a number of key Sizerian themes, always having at the center of them the primacy of a student-centered approach to learning. Ted scrambled some of the categories when it came to contemporary debates on education: a skeptic of standardized testing, he was also an advocate for school choice (he helped found a charter school) and here argues for the importance of religion as a component of a high school curriculum. He evinced the empiricism of a John Dewey, but an empiricism of inner experience, attuned to the sensory dimensions of schooling in everyday life. He was an American original, and is deeply missed. Fortunately, his deeply appealing voice lingers.