Using the Paideia approach puts NM school on top schools list

Only three New Mexico schools made Newsweek’s list of the top 1300 public schools in the US. Coming in at number 31 was an unusual small school in the mountains at Angel Fire. If you’re a skier, the name Angel Fire may be meaningful. Angel Fire is also known for the Viet Nam Veterans’ Memorial there (see photo). For those of you who never heard of Angel Fire, it’s a small town close to the more famous Taos, in the mountains north of Santa Fe.

Newsweek explains its method of picking top schools in FAQ: Best High Schools.

We take the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests given at a school in May, and divide by the number of seniors graduating in May or June.

Moreno Valley High School in Angel Fire is unusual for a number of reasons.

  • it consists of six portable buildings
  • it has no gym or cafeteria
  • it enrolled 78 students in 2007-2008; with 18 graduating seniors receiving $530,000 in college grant and scholarship offers.
  • it uses Mortimer Adler‘s Paideia Proposal as a teaching method

That last item is what caught my eye. What is the Paideia approach? I found a bio about Adler by Margaret Farrand at the Southeast Louisiana University website that summarized it.

Mortimer Adler is Perennialist who believes that philosophy should become part of mainstream public school curriculum. He believes that education should be basically the same for everyone, because children’s “sameness as human beings…means that every child has all the distinguishing properties common to all members of the species.” In his Paideia Proposal, which sets out his vision for American public schools, Adler says that children must acquire three different types of knowledge: organized knowledge, intellectual skills, and understanding of ideas and values. For each of these types of knowledge, there is a different teaching style. Organized, or factual, knowledge is to be taught through lectures, intellectual skills are to be taught through coaching and supervised practice, and understanding of ideas and values are to be taught through the Socratic method of discussion and questioning. Adler believes in liberal, non-specialized education without electives or vocational classes. For him, education should serve three purposes: to teach people how to use their leisure time well, to teach people to earn their living ethically, and to teach people to be responsible citizens in a democracy. He believes that each person has the innate ability to do these three things, and that education should above all prepare people to become lifelong learners. Education never ends, in his view — age 60 is the earliest that anyone can claim to be truly “educated”, and only then if they have devoted their life to learning. Philosophy and the arts are central to Adler’s educational vision. While he believes that every child should study math, science, history, geography, measurement, and other subjects in the lower grades, his plan for upper secondary school and college centers on students gaining insight into works of fiction, poetry, drama, art, and the like.

The principal at Moreno Valley High School is even more succinct. In the Albuquerque Journal, she said,

It’s a form of teaching developed by Mortimer Adler. He believed in the Socratic seminar, coached projects and as little lecture as possible.

The story in the Albuquerque Journal is not online today, but should be tomorrow. It will be in the Metro Section with the headline a different kind of school.

From my biased point of view, I’d summarize it thus: they are getting these results by teaching students to think rather than by teaching to the test as demanded by No Child Left Behind.

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