Imagine the ideal 18-year-old.
A person of taste, sensitivity and learning?
Yes, indeed, says the Baltimore school system.
A person with a certain indefinable quality?
No, not at all, says that same system. In fact -- according to the Bureau of Curriculum Development, Planning, Research and Evaluation -- the facets of the ideal high school graduate can be analyzed, compartmentalized, quantified and stratified. And moreover, having done so, the Bureau of CDPR&E declares that there are precisely 202 "competencies" in the model young adult.
Last night those competencies were laid out before the school board -- a spreadsheet of human virtue.
They were arrived at through days of both serious thinking and nuts-and-bolts bargaining by nine teams of professionals, business people, educators, bureaucrats, firefighters and agitators -- 80 panelists in all who were gathered by the school system to define just what it is they want in a high school graduate.
Then the school system people boiled it all down into those 202 boxes, divided among 12 major themes.
The 18-year-old of the future is a can-do sort of youth. He can maintain a healthy self-concept, and can write legibly. He can manage stress, and he can prioritize tasks. He can develop artistic talents, recognize potential problems, identify alternatives, access community resources, and apply basic trigonometric concepts.
More than that, though, he can be punctual, and he can analyze literature for pleasure, insight, understanding and enrichment. He can take those admirable qualities and use them in causes beyond his immediate experience. He can use active listening skills, and with them develop an attitude of personal responsibility for global concerns. He can resolve personal problems during non-work hours, and when the problems are solved he can happily apply the principles of biology, chemistry, physics and earth science.
He can take reasonable risks, and he can respect authority.
(He can also recognize and oppose discrimination based on sex, race, religion, age, sexual preference or handicap, so he would use the concept of "s/he" to describe himself, rather than the outmoded "he.")
And there's much more, of course. But what the school system has to do now is figure out a curriculum that can turn out such a citizen, and then put it in place citywide.
The whole process of defining what a person should be and then designing instruction with that in mind is the work of Norman J. Walsh, the city's associate superintendent for curriculum. The panels that defined the competencies met last June. The curriculum is to be phased in, beginning with elementary schools, starting next September.
The board members themselves were quick to praise the work before them. But, they wondered, is it enough?
"They were defining what my son ought to be like when he graduates," said Stelios Spiliadis. But as a parent, Mr. Spiliadis said, he needs to have a role, too.
"I don't expect parents to be experts on how to get there, but the one domain where they have absolute control is defining what they want," he said. "We are going to be cheating our parents if we don't share this with them."
Alice Morgan-Brown, an assistant superintendent, said she planned to present the report to the school system's Community Mobilization panel.
Clearly wary of too much talk and too much fiddling, though, Joseph L. Smith, the board president, broke in.
"I support student involvement," he said, "but I don't want to lose the point that most of these businesses [that took part in the panels] are not in the negotiating business."
They're not interested in accommodating the whims or styles of their would-be employees, he said. "And that may be old-fashioned and dictatorial and un-American, but that's the way it is. Being able to read and write and do math, and be on time and be neat, that's the real world."