Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rebel Rebel - The Juanita System

And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall
-Paul Simon, "Kodachrome"
Juanita High School, Kirkland, Washington about 1972 (photo credits below*)
The secret of life is to attend several high schools. At each transfer they give you the benefit of the doubt as to your credits and fulfillment of graduation requirements. You can graduate high school without learning much at all. Actually, I learned a great deal in this process. Just not much Math. An out-of-the-box experiment in two big boxes was my initial high school experience in which I began my career in not learning Math.

Erroneously assumed to be the computer
that ran our academic life
There is a good history online of the Juanita High experience. I even learned some things about my own experience such as- the computer was actually in Iowa and the big plastic box with the flashing lights and whirling tapes that we affectionately called "Hal" was only the audio/video source for the remote stations where we occasionally studied.
A Media Carrel. The push-buttons were new.
Remember, it's 1971.
This was that era's iPod along with the computer to the right

The concept was revolutionary. Hence, the Rebel mascot. (It was clearly a Revolutionary War Rebel, not Confederate. This was the Pacific Northwest even if oddly with a Spanish-named bay on Lake Washington.) And it was uniquely the "Juanita System" even if open-concept schools were the new thing in education making their way around the country.

It was a good idea, I think, then as well as now. Students would spend most of their time independently or in groups working at their own pace on Teaching-Learning Units (TLUs). Classes were small and only took up a portion of the school day. The teachers were to pay more attention to students that way. They were available in unscheduled time to mentor students one-on-one and in groups. Most of them were young and idealistic - well suited to the revolutionary system. But it was the facility that astounded.

Note the Pillar Marked with a Letter of the Alphabet to Identify Locations. I think there were at least 26.
Teacher Carrels Front Right, Student Carrels Left.
Another class or study session at Pillar E.
A good friend of mine sits upper right.
A Language Arts classroom with Ms. Anderson      

Modern Auditorium 1971
(Hey, TVs in schools!)

Serious study around the media computer

Less serious study at Pillar D. Note Washington State flag - the Evergreen State.

Food court. No scheduled lunchtime.

Some Staff appeared maybe more 1950's than 70's. Although
the bright dress does compliment our orange lockers behind.
 Maybe 60's style? My locker often had fruit flies dwelling
therein as I left some sack-lunch bananas too long.
(I was 14-years-old!)
Why were the lockers so small?? Next pics, please:

Teaching-Learning Units filed by class-subject codes.
Picture to the right shows the textbooks or modules
helping to show why our lockers didn't have to be too big.
No large, heavy textbooks to weigh us down!
(I knew that guy on the right from Jr. High! He was a
good artist who did the designs for our Jr. High yearbooks.)

Here's a design schematic of the academic side of the school:

The unfortunate swastika shapes are study carrels. I believe the front of the school is on the right, facing north.
The administrative center was on the top, right.
The band/orchestra room below the auditorium on the right wing.
The art/industrial-arts in the bottom wing.
The typing studio where I learned my skills on IBM Selectrics with the whirling spheres is in the left wing.
In the upper part of the left wing was the "Kiva,"
actually 3 circular sets of seats that could be moved to all face center. See pics:

Kiva "module" from the back (everything
was "modules" in those days.) Pic to the
left is a kiva section facing front. And,
in the front row, just right of aisle, is
another good buddy of mine! 

While not being a real athletic guy myself, the physical education "box" of campus was truly impressive. There was an Olympic-size swimming pool, a state-of-the art weight-training facility. And a gym so huge that when the Seattle Symphony came to perform they set up in front of our pulled-our bleachers in the center third, had their semi-truck parked in another third, and a whole third of the room was left unused!

Regulation basketball court & bleachers only took the middle third of the PE big box. I think that's my shirtless friend on the left!
Now comes the sad part of the story in which I failed the revolutionary system. You can read the historical fate of Juanita HS at the link above. My experience there was to work at my own pace rather slowly out of laziness and disinterest leaving more than enough time for my troubled social life. It finally caught up with me half way through my sophomore year.

The computer didn't care about progress as much as activity, so some of us figured out that we could mark the IBM cards to show movement back and forth between modules of the same Math TLU and it took quite a while for a human to catch that. I was placed in a remedial Language Arts class (but not Math?) with a bunch of pot-heads which I found rather entertaining but not what I wanted out of life. My parents helped guide me to the decision to transfer to another public high school for which they had to pay out-of-district tuition. And, somewhat embarrassed to admit, I was already deep into my own self-exposing literary career:
Transferred student criticizes JHS
(Editor's Note: The LEXINGTON does not intend to provide space for those who have left this school to speak out against it. This editorial was printed so that you might assess whether or not the cause for failure at this school is the system or whether it is only the failure of the individual's responsibility)
Dear Editor, 
Since I have attended both Juanita and Inglemoor high schools, I would like to make some comparisons of the Juanita system and a conventional school.
How many of you at Juanita have ever skipped classes or had your parents receive those letters in the mail? How many of you have felt guilty because you were behind in a class? How many of you have procrastinated on a test or assignment, or maybe took a test and just guessed at the multiple choice answers? How many, after you finally passed a TLU, wondered if you really learned anything? I know about these things because I did a lot of them myself. Maybe this is supposed to make you a responsible and mature adult, but maybe at the expense of your high school education.
At my present school there are still the opportunities to cheat and procrastinate, but you know what is required of you and how to do it, and if you don't do it you fail.
When I was at Juanita, I really didn't feel anybody was concerned about me as a person. There were some good teachers, but most didn't seem to care enough to find out who I was. There was my counselor who didn't even remember me when I was seeing him every other day trying to get things straightened out. Then there were the administrators who told my concerned parents not to worry because I could always stay another year or make up credits at a community college.
At Inglemoor I found most of my teachers are concerned about me as an individual. They make sure all of us in the class understand each of the things we learn. Many of them talk to me personally and are interested in me and the things I do.
I know I was not the only one at Juanita that ever had trouble. Many friends I know there have or have had trouble. There are at least twenty former Juanita students here at Inglemoor and many at other schools. At Open House, one of my old teachers explained that they changed the furniture around and said that the school is different, but it is really the same as always.
I would just like to say that I am very happy with the choice I made, and I assure you that I will graduate in June 1975 with a fine education (and probably pretty good grades).
-Grant Vaughn
[dated Friday, November 16, 1973 - in my junior year having left Juanita in March of my sophomore year. I self-fulfilled my prophecy at graduation in '75 after having transferred to one more high school with the benefits of many educational doubts when my family moved to Wyoming!] 
So, what could have been done better? Certainly I could have taken more responsibility for academics and spent less time goofing around - but I was only a 14-year-old ninth grader at the start! Maybe my parents could have paid more attention earlier. Maybe a teacher or counselor could have. I now think the Juanita System may have been more successful at least for me if there had been twice as many teachers. (Having spent all the money on facilities, I'm not sure the district would have been able to afford that.) The teachers tried hard yet more easily connected to the already motivated students. Maybe there could have been more community preparation. Or perhaps the experiment was better suited to a magnet or charter school (admittedly more recent innovations in education.)

I just don't know. It was a "brief, shining moment" know as the Juanita System - an idealistic dream I was glad to fail at trying.

*Photos graciously provided by my good buddy from 6th Grade into High School and continuing current friend, Dave Sexton. He took some of the photos here. Dave found them as they had been discarded by the Eastside Journal where he worked just after high school. (I think that means they are in the public domain.) They are a rich, historical treasure. Thank you, Dave! [And Dave is not the high-school friend I had trouble with in other stories!]


  1. "Glad to fail at trying"-- not sure how to take that. Anyway, the challenge now will be for everyone who reads this not to generalize beyond the particular case to "more control = good for everyone, less control = bad for everyone." Thought-provoking story, though. I'll be interested in reading the history and fate of poor ol' Juanita.

    1. I think I was glad for the experience, tragical history tour that it was. Hey, do you do remedial Math tutoring?

    2. OK. I was a little flippant in the answer. IMO, the best kind of education would be a tutor/mentor for a small group of students. My model would be the kind of education that European royals or children of the gentry received.

      OK, so we're not all royals able to afford that. The home-school philosophy is sort of like that but it mostly fails because while the teacher/mentor concept would seem to work, you need highly skilled and dedicated parents not involved in outside pursuits or domestic obligations of a household beyond teaching the children so they can be true educator/mentors. (and there is usually too much of an inherent family dynamic at play to be a true mentor)

      The problem with most home-schooling is the motivation - it is not so much about the education of the child, but in reaction, in a negative way, to outside influences of a public education.

      I strongly believe in free, public education as the foundation of an educated electorate. It's a societal obligation to teach children, yes, even socialize them, into the concepts that make our society work. It's not just a political, but cultural socialization that are important. With all respect possible for individualism, there has to be some basic socialization into western democratic principles such as respect for law and democratic process, sharing, respect for diversity in religious belief and varied life-styles. I don't see any problem in promoting a "civic religion" of respect for belief or non-belief under a constitutional democratic-republic.

      And, I think this could be better achieved in the current public school system with better resources - higher teacher pay to motivate competitive excellence in teachers in our regulated, free-market, competitive economic system - recognizing teachers for their intrinsic value to society, not just immediate dollar for dollar return.

      And, I think this could be accomplished within a traditional classroom with a principal teacher of about 20-25 students to give structure and schedule to the subject matter and three or four skilled aides to give individual or small group attention to students who may excel ahead of the class or struggle to keep up. That's not so revolutionary. And it's not really that far off from the Juanita system idealism or learning units to be achieved with mentor/teachers. I think they needed more staff so that kids didn't slip through the cracks like I did.

      My wife is a secondary school science teacher in Utah. She has 200 students in 6 classes and works 12 hour-days. You can do the Math. There's not a lot of individualized attention. The IEPs and 504s that are required these days are not bad concepts to address individual needs, but there is no way one human being can do that for 200 kids! She keeps trying, though.

      Politicians supported by those who are anti-socialization to begin with are self-fulfilling their societal prejudices by destroying public education, IMO!

  2. Thanks for responding. I hope my comment didn't come off as a challenge to your post -- I come from a family with three generations of public school teachers and earn my living educating future secondary math teachers. I'm somewhat discouraged by the current government/corporate reformers who seem to support more testing of students. less freedom for teachers, and increasingly narrow educational goals. Overall, I would tend to favor a Juanita approach over, for example, a KIPP approach, but adequate resources may indeed trump philosophical approaches.

    I don't have much to add except that I pretty much agree with your analysis of things. I think your views of home-schooling are dead on, and I stand with you in your support of free public education, especially education for democracy. Your model of one teacher and three or four aides is one I'd like to see myself. It would be nice if some of those aides were apprentice teachers, so that the training of teachers could extend beyond the 16 weeks of student teaching they now get. They could work as aides for a while to gain experience and eventually take over the head teacher position. Of course, we'd have to pay them enough to make that extended apprenticeship worthwhile.

    I empathize with your wife. It is a very hard time to be a public school teacher, made worse by a strident state legislature with very little in the way of educational vision. I hope she can hang in there, for the sake of her students.

  3. Ms. Anderson reporting in. Elizabeth Hauk, drama teacher at JHS sent me your blog entry. Ahh, what a step back in history these pictures gave me. Thanks for that. When we remodeled JHS and 'put up the walls,' and we redesigned the Teaching Learning Units, we still had too high a student-teacher ratio. As you and your commenters maintain, public education is important and more one-on-one mentoring is vital. I went on to an assistant principalship, then got the call to be a principal in a brand new high school. I tried to use what I'd learned at JHS to design a more effective curriculum, but since I've left the high school, the program has gone back to traditional. It's been said that changing a high school in America is tantamount to moving a graveyard. We're stuck with an old European model that refuses to change. All that being said, I enjoyed my 19 years of teaching English at JHS mostly because of the students. We struggled together...the teaching/learning act is and always has been a complicated dance. It makes me smile that your wife is a high school teacher. Give her hugs every day for her dedication...she deserves it! An irony? I write fiction suspense novels now, free to change the world the way I wish. Best of luck to you. Sincerely, Rolynn Anderson

    1. Wow, Elizabeth Hauk was inspirational to my son class of 2017 and he went on to get a business degree but is now at CalArts for his masters in theater and film production. Juanita served both my kids well. I actually visited a friend for a day when I had a day off from my HS (ECHS) in 1981. It was a shock to see so many students and how loud it was during and between classes, kids wearing walkmans in class, no dress code etc....but I longed to be at public school where all the kids were so 'cool'.

  4. Good to hear from you, Ms. Anderson! Er, Rolynn. Congratulations on the teacher/administrator career and on your books. Thanks for the comment and best of everything to you.

  5. A pleasure, Grant. As I always said to my students, keep writing...it's the way to learn! All the best, Rolynn

  6. Go REBELS, CLASS OF 1982, Shane Lux


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