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Volume 13, Number 2
March/April 1997

A Conversation with Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor

A Small School with a Big Idea

 

In the summer of 1996, the Rhode Island legislature approved start-up funds for the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (MET), a new high school proposed by an unusual planning group, including the Commisssioner of Education, Peter McWalters, the Board of Regents, and several hundred citizens. The effort was spearheaded by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor, who came from Thayer High School in New Hampshire, where their work attracted national attention, both because Thayer was an exemplary school within the Coalition of Essential Schools and because the school board tried to fire Littky, whose successful struggle was described in a book (Doc) and a TV movie ("A Town Torn Apart"). Littky and Washor were interviewed by Adria Steinberg several months into the first school year of the MET.

HEL: You had a nationally renowned high school in New Hampshire. Why start a brand new school in Rhode Island?

DL: As a principal for 19 years I'd been doing innovative things, and yet I felt that we hadn't gone far enough. People would laugh at that, because Thayer was pretty far out. But I realized the best examples of learning happened when the kids did real work or solved real problems, like when they registered people to vote, or developed new school rules, or apprenticed with someone in the community.

We're trying to pay attention to what we know about how people learn. What if we didn't think that everything had to be organized into math, English, science, social studies? Students learn by following their interests. I have this dream of working kid by kid and helping each of them find what they want to explore. That's what high school should be—usually you only get to do that in kindergarten or graduate school.

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

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For Further Information

For Further Information

This interview is part of an ongoing research project in school-to-career initiatives conducted by Jobs for the Future in partnership with the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University.