Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Same For All

One of the common arguments given against putting students in classes according to ability (rather than age) is that the student put in a lower level will get "stuck" at that level. Having been put in a lower track, they will never get out.

I think that hesitation is based on a common assumption that all students should be able to get to a certain academic location within a certain time frame. Somehow, it seems a horrid thought that someone should forever be a little slower in a particular subject.

This is one of the few areas of life where we cling to such an assumption.  In all other areas we know that people have different likes, predilections, tastes, etc.; and that all of these things have a factor in the person's pursuit and growth within a given area.  It is easy to see that some people favor mechanics, while others prefer literature.  Some have a  physique for certain athletics, while others have an ear for music.  We do not assume that because certain equations are accessible to Stephen Hawking that they can be grasped by everyone.  We would never think that, given enough training, just anyone could stand in the ring against Mike Tyson in his prime.  Nor would we think that because Einstein was not as well versed in history or languages, that he was somehow academically inept.

Yet, we are simply uncomfortable admitting that some children are better at this, while others are better at that.

It is understandable WHY we recoil at this admission.  Such language was used to keep races and people groups under subjugation. The non-privileged were told that it was their lot in life to do the menial labor or that education would be wasted on them - they should accept their position.

However, the practical upshot of our aversion is that we think everyone should do everything - so the child who is passionate about poetry is made to look a fool for not desiring quadratic equations; and the teacher who is unable to inspire passion for math in that student is defined as a failure.

Our American system is designed to teach the same thing to all children according to their age.  So classrooms in America are filled with children for whom everything is moving much too fast, or much too slow.  Huge gaps are never addressed for many, while others tortuously endure lessons in material already mastered.  Few students are getting the education that suits them.

Meanwhile, the educational community collects more and more data while expanding the testing schedule.

Liberals perpetuate the system because they believe everyone deserves the SAME education. Conservatives perpetuate it because it clearly harms the most impoverished neighborhoods and the results give them talking points for abolishing another public institution.

Is there any hope? I think so. My hope rests in families. Families doing their job sets the foundation for every child succeeding academically. Families being engaged and involved at their school generally produce good schools - which seem to be able to weather the storms created by the political powers around them.
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