What's Right with Our Schools?
SLU professor's innovative research disproves seven myths about St. Louis high schools
|James Gilsinan, Ph.D.|
ST. LOUIS -- Stories about underperforming high schools, self-absorbed youth and overpaid, undeserving teachers are not difficult to find in the media, but a collaboration between Focus St. Louis's Youth Leadership Program (YLSL) and Saint Louis University's E. Desmond Lee Professor in Collaborative Regional Education, James Gilsinan, Ph.D., has challenged those assumptions.
Last September, YLSL and Gilsinan trained 160 high school students representing 24 schools in the St. Louis Metropolitan Region in participatory action research, a process in which people join together and systematically develop knowledge for action and change. Students were charged with the task of gathering stories that illustrated what was right with their schools.
Participating students were instructed in a variety of action research techniques to accomplish the goals of the study. Techniques included document research, participant observation, interviewing, focus groups and debriefing exercises.
The collection of stories compiled allowed students to describe in their own voices what makes their school special. The results revealed seven current myths regarding education in St. Louis. Those myths include:
- Teachers care more about their economic well-being than about educating their students.
- Today's high school students have little interest in the world beyond themselves.
- High school is boring and does not excite a love of learning in students.
- High school students are not interested in learning or setting challenging goals for themselves
- American classrooms are too insulated from world affairs.
- Even if they wanted to, today's high school teachers and students have little chance to exercise creativity and critical thinking.
- Today's students lack a sense of responsibility for carrying on the traditions of their institutions.
The student accounts from the study, which narrated the lived experience of students in a variety of high school settings, portrayed a much different educational landscape than the mythical assertions offered by many "experts", media pundits and elected officials.
"Stories, even if distorted, have a way of shaping reality. Negative stories about people or institutions lead to negative judgments about their effectiveness, which lead to the withdrawal of support both moral and financial," said Gilsinan. "By shattering these myths, we hope that the student stories help change the conversation around education in a positive direction that will lead to opportunities for teachers and students to exchange best practices."
Having a call to action is at the core of Gilsinan's role as a Des Lee Professor, who are part of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision (DLCV), an organization that links educational, cultural and social service institutions. Working together, the institutions enhance education, create opportunities for disadvantaged people and improve the quality of life throughout the St. Louis area.
About Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 14,000 students. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University has provided one-of-a-kind education, leadership and service for nearly two centuries.
About FOCUS St. Louis
FOCUS St. Louis is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a thriving, cooperative region by engaging citizens to participate in active leadership roles and to influence positive community change.