The Arkansas Board of Education will meet Thursday on the recommendation by a committee appointed by Education Commissioner Johnny Key to move Arkansas Governor’s School, the summer program for
By Bruce Haggard
I understand that the Board of Education will be voting Thursday on the location and curriculum for the Arkansas Governor’s School for the coming years. Both are absolutely critical to the success of any AGS program and changing both would be very detrimental. The standard pre-college, technological, or advanced placement type of curriculum proposed by Arkansas Tech, is not what AGS was designed to provide. The conflicts involved when college students, food services, activity centers, and programs are shared with the high school students would not be an improvement.
The Governor’s School idea originated in North Carolina in 1963 and was so good that it spread to many states and finally to Arkansas in 1980 due to some fantastic efforts by several women (including Martha Bass, Elaine Dumas etc.) who had the interests of Arkansas youth in their hearts.
The Arkansas Department of Education was funded and authorized to hire a special Gifted and Talented Director whose main responsibility was to establish the AGS and to bring in consultants from North Carolina to lead the faculty orientation and even to teach example classes in the first couple of years of the program. John Churchill and I were sent to North Carolina and to the annual National Conferences of Governor’s Schools to learn why and how they were so effective in the approximately 23 states that had established such programs and to write the AGS Overview.
The high school juniors targeted for the six-week experience were to be nominated by school counselors and teachers who identified them as gifted and/or talented in their potential (not necessarily in their performance.) A common observation of teachers is that some of the brightest students do not feel comfortable with their cohorts, cannot be intellectually challenged enough, and sometimes hide in the overworked teacher’s classrooms and most teachers wish they could give them something more. Normal high school classrooms are limited by the necessity of teaching to the middle and
As a Ph.D. molecular geneticist (with a secondary education background) who was teaching mostly pre-medical school students, I
But it was recognized that GT students needed to be challenged beyond their special interest/ability and to think in terms of their field of interest’s impact on culture and society (Area II in Governor’s School lingo). The students with their own specific talents and knowledge are brought together to think about the major problems, ideas, challenges that all face in our current world. Teachers in these classes are great at encouraging the kind of open discussion and interplay between ideas that mostly cannot be encouraged and often not even tolerated in standard classrooms as it does not directly move students to perform better on standardized tests. This area often benefits from bringing in topics and often “controversial” speakers to stimulate necessary contemplation for students to figure out in their own minds what is best. Often, education is only the teaching of what the teacher thinks is ‘right’ and the student is simply indoctrinated with that idea. While there are facts and there is
It is also critical to the Alumni that they had the opportunity to simply be themselves in personal and social development classes (Area III in Governor’s school vernacular). These classes are great for learning how to get to know others, how to express your emotions in an appropriate manner, and how to live the good community life and just be a good citizen. Again this is an experience critical to the success of the program (shown by the classic 95% plus ratings of students who have gone through AGS). Again, this is not something easily measured by performance on standardized tests. In
Those who have no personal experience with the unique nature of the program and the unique setting are prone to think that it can be as successful and as beneficial with a classic advanced school curriculum and on a campus with college students and classes going on. Believe me, when I say that is not true.
Dr. Bruce Haggard is an emeritus distinguished professor at Hendrix College. He was
CORRECTION: I apologize for my misspelling of Dr. Haggard’s name in the original post.