The Essential Schools movement sprang from Professor Sizer’s seminal book “Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School” (1984). In it, he created an archetypal hero, Horace Smith, a high school English teacher. Horace is devoted to his work but frustrated at every turn by the entrenched limitations of the American educational system, many of them holdovers from 19th-century pedagogic practice.
Horace’s story provides the narrative armature for a battery of sobering statistics, amassed by Professor Sizer in the course of an extended study of dozens of American high schools. The “compromise” of the book’s title is the tacit compact between teacher and students that was the order of the day in far too many schools, Professor Sizer and his associates found. Do not make trouble for me, the teacher’s side of the compact went, and I will demand little of you in return.
“Horace’s Compromise” was the first in a trilogy of influential books by Professor Sizer. The others are “Horace’s School: Redesigning the American High School” (1992) and “Horace’s Hope: What Works for the American High School” (1996). All were published by Houghton Mifflin.