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What High School Is By Theodore Sizer Essay Definition

Shopping Mall High School is a term used in reference to consumer-oriented secondary educational institutions offering an abundance of student choice within its program. This most often includes choice of schedule, classes, a wide variety of subject matter, subjulty, and extracurricular activities (sports and hobbies). Schools dubbed shopping mall high schools make such numerous and different accommodations for students in an attempt to allow students to achieve the customized, individualized education and training they desire. Shopping mall high schools offer various curricula in order to maximize holding power, graduation percentages, and customer satisfaction.[1]


The concept of a shopping mall high school was first introduced in the best-selling 1985 book, The Shopping Mall High School : Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace by authors Arthur G. Powell, Eleanor Farrar, and David K. Cohen. The book is the second report from "A Study of High Schools," and is the successor volume to education reform leader Theodore Sizer's Horace's Compromise. Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, called The Shopping Mall High School "a sobering analysis of current conditions in our secondary schools and how they got that way." In The Shopping Mall High School, the authors argue that high schools have come to resemble shopping malls in terms of variety, choice and neutrality. The book, often required reading for education majors in the 1980s and 1990s, exposed the realities of the comprehensive high school and set off a debate that would later incorporate themes about school vouchers and the marketplace.[2]

As high school enrollment increased and diversified during the 20th century, researchers have concluded that standards became lower, resulting in the less-challenging and more-accommodating shopping mall high school style. In their book, The Failed Promise of the American High School 1890-1995, authors David Angus (education historian and professor in Education Studies at the University of Michigan) and Jeffrey E. Mirel (also a professor in Education Studies at the University of Michigan) report that by the 1950s, education aimed at the lowest common denominator become the norm in America's high schools.[3]

Author and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Southwest State University, H.M. Curtler, identifies two main factors that have resulted in "the dumbing-down of high school and college curricula" and the subsequent increase in shopping mall high schools: "the major effort in the late 1940s to focus attention in the schools on the disadvantaged student in the guise of teaching what was called real-life experience," and the correlative de-emphasis on traditional literate knowledge. This approach was linked to progressive educational theories that soon spawned the "self-esteem movement" prevalent today, turning attention away from traditional educational standards to the students themselves.[4]

Shopping Mall High Schools Today[edit]

In the 1980s, The Shopping Mall High School and similar books documented the lack of challenging content in many high school courses. Despite the current policies of mandated student testing and performance-based school funding, evidence from recent reports indicates that the problem of high school students graduating without thoroughly developing many standard intellectual skills persists.[5] In many cases this problem results from the lack of clear state and local standards for what students are expected to learn, and the methods used to teach them. According to the National Center for Educational Achievement, "the failure of schools, school systems and states to define appropriate standards for high school courses has been a major influence in the move to Advanced Placement and IB courses." [6]

Criticisms of Shopping Mall High Schools[edit]

While advocates for shopping mall style schools boast inclusiveness and freedom of student choice within such programs, critics warn against catering to juvenile whims. Educator and academic critic E.D. Hirsch, Jr. refers to the trend of shopping mall high schools in his influential book Cultural Literacy, calling the American public school curriculum "cafeteria style education" that detrimentally serves to diminish "commonly shared information between generations and between young people themselves." Hirsch believes the unavoidable consequence of the shopping mall high school is a lack of shared knowledge across and within American schools resulting in harmful cultural fragmentation.[7]

In the journal article "What High Schools Are Like," writer and Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of California, Davis, Donald Arnstine critiques the shopping mall approach:

To urge the proliferation of shopping mall high schools is to ignore the fact that learning just isn't like shopping. Presented with a wide array of goods, we can purchase what we want and carry it home in a shopping bag. But if we are presented with a wide array of knowledge, organized by others for their purposes, we cannot just acquire it and carry it home in our heads. In fact most of it disappears once we're home (that's why teachers like to give tests on Friday). Only if one assumes that learning is simply a matter of acquiring information (for how long? a week? a semester? forever?) can one believe that schools can be improved by becoming more like shopping malls.[8]

The Mall and High School Experience[edit]

The 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High also makes a comparison of high schools to shopping malls. Its opening titles appear over scenes of a mall, which continues throughout as the main setting where students live out their adolescence.[9]

Malls across the United States have seen a decline in business since the heyday of the 1980s. At the same time, school systems are dealing with budget cuts affecting programs for troubled teens. The two problems have joined together in a unique solution. Malls such as the Westminster Mall in Southern California houses an alternative school in mall space donated by the Simon Youth foundation. Rick Markoff, the executive vice president of the foundation, says there are 25 "mall schools" like Westminster across the U.S. and more on the way. Most students don't just attend school at the mall, they also intern and work there. [10]

See also[edit]

History of Education in the United States

Secondary education in the United States


External links[edit]

  • The Shopping Mall High School: Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace[1]
  • National Center for Educational Achievement [2]
  1. ^Arthur G. Powell, Eleanor Farrar, and David K. Cohen. The Shopping Mall High School : Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1985
  2. ^Lewis, Anne C. Students as Commodities. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 84, Issue 8. April 2003.
  3. ^Angus, David L., and Jeffrey E. Mirel. The Failed Promise of the American High School: 1890-1995. New York: Teachers College, 1999.
  4. ^Curtler, H.M. "A Plea For Humanistic Education." Modern Age 48.4 (2006): 330-36 http://www.mmisi.org/ma/48_04/curtler.pdf
  5. ^Dougherty, C., Mellor, L., and Jian, S. "Orange Juice or Orange Drink." National Center for Educational Accountability. 2006. http://www.nc4ea.org/files/orange_juice_or_orange_drink_02-13-06.pdf
  6. ^http://www.nc4ea.org/files/preparation_matters-04-01-09.pdf
  7. ^Hirsch, E.D., Jr. Cultural Literacy What Every American Needs to Know. New York: Vintage, 1988.
  8. ^Arnstine, Donald. "What High Schools Are Like". Educational Studies: A Journal in the Foundations of Education, v18 n1 p1-12 Spr 1987
  9. ^Pauline Kael, The Current Cinema, “RICE KRISPIES,” The New Yorker, November 1, 1982, p. 146. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1982/11/01/1982_11_01_146_TNY_CARDS_000123486#ixzz0kRXCCN1b
  10. ^"A mall where you can go to school | Marketplace from American Public Media". Marketplace.publicradio.org. 2010-03-22. Retrieved 2011-11-15. 

Theodore Ryland Sizer (June 23, 1932 – October 21, 2009) was a leader of educational reform in the United States, the founder (and eventually President Emeritus) of the Essential school movement and was known for challenging longstanding practices and assumptions about the functioning of American secondary schools. Beginning in the late 1970s, he had worked with hundreds of high schools, studying the development and design of the American educational system, leading to his major work Horace's Compromise in 1984. In the same year, he founded the Coalition of Essential Schools based on the principles espoused in Horace's Compromise.[1]

Sizer was born in New Haven, Connecticut to Theodore Sizer, Sr. (1892–1967), an art history professor at Yale University.[2] He received his B.A. in English from Yale in 1953 and subsequently served in the Army as an artillery officer. He later described his experience leading soldiers in a democratic and egalitarian fashion as a formative influence on his ideas about education. After teaching in high schools, he earned his masters and doctorate in education from Harvard University in 1957 and 1961, respectively. He was a faculty member and later dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a position he held during the 1969 Harvard student strike. While dean, he reorganized the school into seven departments, expanding the resources available for research (particularly in the area of urban education), while expanding minority enrollment.[3] In 1970, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Education.[4]

Sizer left Harvard to serve as headmaster of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts from 1972 to 1981, leaving to lead a study of American high schools sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Independent Schools. From 1983 to 1997, Sizer worked at Brown University as a professor and chair of the education department,[5] and in 1993, he became the Founding Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.[1]

During his years at Brown, he produced most of his books, including Horace's Compromise. In it, he examined[6] the fundamental compromise at the heart of allegedly successful American high schools. He suggested that the students agree to generally behave in exchange for the schools agreeing not to push them too hard or challenge them too severely. Thus, he widened the scope of schools that were failing to do their best to educate children far beyond the traditionally criticized poor and urban schools and challenged the conceptions of what could be considered a successful school. The ideas explored in his Horace Trilogy supply much of the foundation of the Coalition of Essential Schools.

After retiring from Brown, Professor Sizer took a one-year position during the 1998–99 school year as co-principal (with his wife Nancy Faust Sizer) of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, of which he was a Trustee Emeritus and helped to found.[7] Their book, Keeping School (coauthored with Deborah Meier and Nancy Faust Sizer), drew from this experience. From 1997 through 2006, Sizer returned to the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a visiting professor, co-teaching a course on redesigning the American secondary school with his wife, Nancy,[8] while he continued to work on the issues of integrating the multiple services that low socio-economic status families need in poor communities.

His wife, Nancy Faust Sizer, whom he married in 1955, was also an educator, and they had four children. He died at age 77 on October 21, 2009, at his home in Harvard, Massachusetts, due to colon cancer.


  • The Age of the Academies (1964)
  • Secondary Schools at the Turn of the Century (1964)
  • Places for Learning, Places for Joy (1973)
  • Horace's Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School (1984)
  • Horace's School: Redesigning the American High School (1992)
  • Horace's Hope: What Works for the American High School (1997)
  • The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract (1999, co-authored with Nancy Sizer)
  • Keeping School: Letters to Families from Principals of Two Small Schools (2003, co-authored with Deborah Meier & Nancy Faust Sizer)
  • The Red Pencil: Convictions From Experience in Education (2004)
  • The New American High School (2013, posthumously)[9]


External links[edit]

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Ted Sizer

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