The School As An Experimental Laboratory

From the standpoint of personality adjustment and selfanalysis as well as from the standpoint of self-guidance, which in the end is the most effective kind of guidance, the high school's greatest function is that it permits the adolescent to exercise himself in a variety of situations, thus permitting him to obtain a more or less objective evaluation of his own interests and abilities in comparison with those of his peers. It is this experience which helps the professional guidance expert to steer the adolescent and youth in a direction which is likely to be satisfying to him and to bring him to a place of reasonable economic security, social adjustment, and creative endeavor.

The high school is to some extent for all youth, but especially for rural youth from more isolated farm environments, a bridge between the relatively simple world of childhood and the relatively complex world of adulthood. The larger high school is a complex social institution which introduces the adolescent to relatively complex social situations. This provides the broadening experience that must of necessity come as the individual makes the transition from childhood to adulthood in a complex society where mobility continuously expands the geographic, ecological, and social horizons of most individuals.

What has been said here about the modern high school could be said with equal or greater truth of the college. The difference is that the college affects a relatively small percentage of the population and affects them after they have already gone through the broadening experience of the high school.

For the group that goes to college, however, the college represents another stage in the transition from a simple world of childhood to the complex world of adulthood, for the college environment provides for increasing self-sufficiency, imposes upon youth responsibility for self-decision, challenges him with complex situations and problems, introduces him to an even greater range of social experience, permits him to test his abilities, interests, and capacities in situations among peers that are even more rigidly competitive, since his peers are themselves a highly select group skimmed off the upper levels of ability of the high-school population, and forces him into habits of competing with a group with ambitions that lead one to expect much more of himself than do the average run of the population.

When one has said all this in favor of the school as an experimental laboratory, the fact still remains that the school has not adequately met its full responsibility. The New York Regents' Inquiry concludes on this point:

Although these pupils had been members of the school group for years, teachers and principals were unable to identify any special abilities for the great majority of them . . . little attention has been given to the discovery of unusual strengths and weaknesses . . . boys and girls have gained from school experiences only the most casual appreciation of their own peculiar talents and skills. Even more serious is the school's inability to recommend at least a fourth of all leaving pupils as ready to take a constructive part in the activities of the factory, office, or farm, and in the broader social relationships of home, community, and state.

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