My Dream: Professor Drout's Academy of Wisdom and Learning
I have an idea about how simultaneously to improve high school education for some kids and help out with the job crisis in academia. Here it is.
Just down the street from my house is an empty school building that was for a long time St. Mary's School in Dedham and then housed the British School of Boston and then the Rashi School (or vice versa) before these moved to new buildings. If a benevolent philanthropist or someone with the political and legal skills to create a charter school were to help me, here's what I would do:
I would open a school staffed entirely with new Ph.D.'s, probably mostly from local New England universities, who wanted to get teaching experience. It would pay $42,000 per year with full benefits on two-year contracts. The idea would be that faculty would teach at the Academy as a way-station on their academic careers, kind of a teaching and research post-doc. They would receive intensive on-the-job training about how to teach (because there is no tougher audience than high-school kids), though even if they weren't great teachers at the start, they would have energy and excitement about their work and would become good teachers.
Everyone would be expected to do research as well. We would have weekly colloquia and presentations, part of the benefits would include Interlibrary Loan and access to academic databases, etc, and time would be set aside each week and within each day to do and present research. The headmaster (me, to start) would advise and support the staff in interdisciplinary research efforts, bring in speakers, etc.
The "catch" would be that the students would have to be included in this research in various ways--you'd have to design your projects so that students could help, and this working on cutting-edge research projects would be a way to focus student learning. If a student was helping, for example, on a 19th-century history project, then the teacher would be teaching the students the background they needed to understand the project and contribute to it.
There would be no entrance examination for the school, and we would take students who were struggling and students who already were academically excellent (so much so that their parents wanted them to be taught by 100% Ph.D.'s.) The only requirements would be an entrance interview with the headmaster for both student and parents. Ideally the benevolent philanthropist or clever political and legal person who helped me set this up would have made it so that there was no tuition, but there would be some contribution expected from every family--volunteering, raising money for field trips, etc. (rather than writing checks, which some families can't afford).
The faculty in the school would be happy and fulfilled because they would still be doing their research and in fact might be producing more as part of an interdisciplinary, close-knit scholarly community. Taking a two-year position at the Academy (note, I would be happy to name it after anybody who wants to endow it) would be a way to improve one's career prospects, research productivity and financial bottom line. Instead of rushing from one adjunct job to the next, teachers would be in one place, earning a fair wage under good working conditions and where they were respected.
Students would have the benefits of an all-Ph.D. faculty who would every single day model for them the value of intellectual effort. The faculty would make up for in energy what they might lack in experience, and students could count on being as entertained as they were challenged (because we know how new Ph.D.s are about their research projects). Students who had been bored or isolated in the traditional school environment would have an opportunity to devote themselves to intellectual pursuits and to go as far and as fast as they wanted. Students who had struggled would suddenly have a peer group that cared deeply about academics.
I know there are a million problems with this dream, most of all that I lack the political and legal skills to bring it off, and I don't have any money to start the school. But I also think that within this crazy idea there might be the core of a way to address two very significant problems: the failures of the educational system (particular for kids who want to be intellectual) and the job crisis in academia. I think that a lot of faculty who tried it, and didn't see taking a job like this as a year or two lost to research but instead an opportunity to learn some new skills while earning a living wage, would discover how much they loved teaching. I think the students would learn more in a few years at the Academy than nearly anywhere else, and I think I could create the kind of intellectual community that we would need.
So, if any benevolent philanthropists or charter school experts are reading, please get in touch.