SAN DORITO, California. Students at this modern high school sixty miles north of Los Angeles perennially achieve high test scores on standardized exams, a fact that has caused educators around the state to try to replicate its methods.
San Dorito High School: Home of the Fighting Taco Chips
“San Dorito was one of the first schools to adopt the concept of ‘risk-taking’ as a guiding principle,” says education consultant Thomas Byrnes-Jones. “They don’t just cram facts into kids’ heads, they challenge them.” The school’s mission statement, posted on its web site, boasts of a “positive learning environment nurtured by risk-taking, ownership, and whatever the buzzword-du-jour among educrats happens to be.”
That philosophy has spread to other schools with mixed results, as teachers and administrators sometimes adopt risk-taking without a firm understanding of what it means in terms of curriculum and pedagogy.
“Risk-taking may not be appropriate at lower grade levels,” says California’s Commissioner of Education Dwight Hulbert. “We had a seventh-grader in the Hidden Valley Middle School propose marriage to his teacher after they’d only gone on one date, to see ‘The Graduate’,” he says as he shakes his head with disapproval. “I don’t think you want to make a long-term commitment like that until you’ve lived together for a couple of years.”
“. . . and when I turn this valve, you’ll hear a loud explosion!”
At the elementary school level, the notion of risk-taking can sometimes energize students with unintended consequences. “We found Mrs. Ilmberger, one of our less popular teachers, locked in the janitor’s closet,” says Sister Mary Agnesita of Holy Name School in Youngstown, Ohio. “Her third grade class stole her wallet and car keys and drove to Chuck E. Cheese for the afternoon.”
The students were apprehended when they tried to use the pizza chain’s prize tickets as currency to buy gas, says local Chief of Police Erskine Howell. “They should have traded them in for the skull’s head finger skate boards,” he notes. “Those are real popular with your typical pimply-faced gas monkey.”