Somehow, in all the discussions I've engaged in over the years, I don't recall running across the "Carnegie unit," until I read the piece we had on our page today from a 20-year teacher, who said in part:
At fault is the foundation of our system, the Carnegie unit, which was developed in 1906 by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation to “standardize higher education.” To earn a Carnegie unit, the student must be in a classroom for 120 hours. S.C. students must earn 24 of these to graduate from high school….
This teacher is saying, based on her experience, something that I have thought (since my own school days) based on my own intuition: That we place too much emphasis on TIME spent in the classroom, with the widespread assumption that more time is better.
For me, the subject usually comes up in connection with proposals for year-round school, or when we see the school year extended to make sure kids get the holy 180 days in the classroom (which apparently applies to home-schoolers and private schools as well as public). This brings out memories of being bored to death in school as a kid. If my attention hadn't wandered — to reading on past where the class was in the book, or passing notes or pulling pranks or otherwise misbehaving — I would have gone totally nuts. Of course, some of you would say I DID go totally nuts, but that's a matter of opinion. I mean, if you had told me the first day I walked into a class that I would have to spend 120 hours there, the temptation to jump out the window would have been strong.
Whenever I invoke that, and say "Let kids have their summers," someone will tell me that I was not typical, that most kids struggle to retain what they learned the year before and need excessive review, etc. And I grumble and shut up. I know that a lot of things about school (testing, for instance) came easier to me than other kids, and that going on about how bored I often was (when behaving) sounds like bragging. (I say "when behaving" because I don't want to make you think I disliked school; I was frequently able to find it entertaining.)
So it was interesting to see this teacher playing to my own particular prejudice on the subject. I don't know whether she was right, and I'm not terribly impressed that when she asks kids themselves whether they want to go at their own pace — of course they answer in the affirmative; who wouldn't when asked whether they want school personally tailored to them? And while SHE believes she'd have no trouble teaching 20 kids at 20 different levels, I wonder how achievable that is for most teachers (I'm pretty sure I couldn't do it; but then I doubt I could teach).
But I found the piece interesting.