More Dirty Looks, Please


Traditionally, when students talked about disliking school, they faulted the imposition of rigid schedules, discipline, and the like–what Huck Finn, the poster child of educational malcontents, would have called attempts to "sivilize" kids. According to a recent nationwide poll of over 1,300 high school students, however, things are different these days: Students hate it when schools fail to demand that they pay attention, fly straight, and do all their homework.

The poll, conducted by the Public Agenda Foundation, a nonprofit public opinion research group, asked students questions about a wide variety of education-related topics. The findings are published in Getting By: What American Teenagers Really Think About Their Schools. "Large numbers" of teenagers, summarizes the report, "say there are too many disruptive students in their classes…and a lack of discipline and challenge in the schools they attend."

More than seven out of 10 respondents claimed that most kids would pay more attention and do more work with higher standards, and fully half believe that schools fail "to challenge students to do their best." As one Seattle public school student told a focus group, "You can just glide through….They practically hand you a diploma."

The attitudes were consistent across ethnic lines but markedly lower among private school students. Only 19 percent of private school kids, for instance, felt their schools failed to challenge them enough.