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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Egalitarian Demise

There was a great post on Reason yesterday about the failings of the American education system. Steve Chapman explained that "[there] is a widespread impulse to treat all kids as equally able and willing to learn. But the results often fall dismally short of the hopes. ... When the Chicago public schools scrapped remedial classes for ninth graders and put everyone in college-prep courses, "failure rates increased, grades declined slightly, test scores did not improve and students were no more likely to enter college," according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Among average and above-average students, absenteeism rose. The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don't elicit much sympathy."

I remember in my private high school's courses that - on the rare occasion someone of significantly greater or lesser ability slipped into a course - the whole class would suffer from being slowed down or pulled into tangents much more advanced than the material. It seems that many school districts are trying to forge classes almost exclusively like this. Yet this trend in thinking is indicative of a perspective that focuses less on actual learning and more on "not feeling so bad." It's not a shameful thing at all to be in a regular or college prep course (well, I didn't think so when I was), but since when did we live in some sort of perfectly egalitarian society where everyone was created with the same academic abilities? Or is that just a projection from the politically-correct police?

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  1. From today's AP:
    Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the military fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions. The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don't get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. (snip) The Education Trust study shows wide disparities in scores among white and minority students. Nearly 40 percent of black students and 30 percent of Hispanics don't pass, compared to 16 percent of whites.

    I expect this is a more serious national security issue than kids not eating arugula in the cafeteria.

  2. Agreed. You can only teach to one level at a time. Its a disservice to every child involved, just to gratify the utopian whims of liberal educators.

    You know, once upon a time, education was actually about educating kids, rather than implementing trendy social engineering theory. Thank goodness we now live in much more enlightened times.

  3. I remember as far back as elementary school being bored to death in class. My parents were frequently called to the school because of my shenanigans, which I pulled because I was bored out of my mind. Finally, in the 5th grade, the school district implemented 'advanced classes'. There was a group of 25 or 30 of us in those classes, and we stayed together (with additions from other schools as we advanced into high school) until graduation. Out of this group came the Valedictiorian and salutorian, the captains of the football, basketball, baseball teams and the cheer squad, as well as the obvious debate, chess, and latin club leaders. Forcing these students to meander through average classes would likely cause just what was described in the Chapman acticle, as they would be bored stiff and would find other outlets (mostly bad of course, as is the nature of things) for their energies. When will these so called educators get it through their heads that everyone is not the same and that those who need more help and those who need more advanced work should be in seperate classes in order to get the education that best suits their needs? Is this really that difficult a concept?

  4. Plus: Tracked classes sort out the best guys-- popular cool in the regular and darling, funny, nerd and uber cool who passed the best notes with cramped excessive verbiage on yellow legal pad pages re obscure books and musicology plus how nice you look that day in the accelerated ones.

    Oh, wait, we were talking the importance of social dynamics, weren't we?

  5. Having been placed in 'advanced courses' in my elementary school, I would say these classrooms are an absolute must.

    Many adults may think that the idea of 'advanced courses' is demeaning to the children in 'regular courses.' But, kids will be kids, so it was the children in the advanced courses that were teased. In fact I knew of some children that were kept in the 'regular courses' by their parents because they wanted their children to 'fit in.'

  6. "Lowest common denominator" is a social...as well as basic arithmetic...concept with very broad application.

    I was taught in public school that I had no place in an academic setting. In various perverse ways, that was true.

    We are consigning our young people to a shadow of the potential they have.

    Why is monopoly good when the Collective decides it is?

  7. BTW, will y'all help me find my dog Klaus? He got thrown out of obedience school and seems to have taken it badly. Here's a poster:

  8. I've read this post a number of times and still don't get what exactly your main point is. Are you criticizing the middle-tiered curriculum or are you raising concerns about the failure to educate the 'brightest' students. Or both? Or are you suggesting that somehow, because the brightest aren't being challenged enough, it is inhibiting society's progress overall. Or are you simply giving a re-description of an article you read that was written by someone else and referenced on someone else's blog/website.

  9. @Carmine,
    I'm corroborating the point made by Chapman with my own experience. Clumping people of all abilities doesn't help anyone - either those at the top, at the bottom, or in the middle. It's fairly uncontroversial in this crowd, it seems, but public school systems are trying to combat what is pretty obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense.

  10. But for goodness sake, if we put the bright kids in separate classes it will make the others feel bad about themselves and that must be avoided at all costs.

    Curiously enough, no one takes this approach when it comes to selecting students for the school sports teams. I tried out for the ninth grade basketball team, got past the first cut but no farther. I didn't feel good about myself but I don't think anyone was going to suggest that I should have been on the team anyway.

  11. Cowboy Curtis, noted (repeatedly, over the past few years) and never to be forgotten or forgiven. Cheers

  12. @Kathleen. Note my observation as to what has become an increasing trend in your posts: a lack of original content. Look at this as constructive criticism.

  13. @Carmine, In my defense, I was just in the middle of finals for a week and a half. Will try to work on it.

  14. You should know that when Congress went to create the Individuals With Disability Education Act, they wanted to include provisions for gifted students, so that school districts would be required to create programs geared toward their brightest students as well as ensuring access to an appropriate education for those with disabilities. National organizations that support the gifted fought tooth and nail to stop it. The organizations for the gifted resented that "gifted" would be seen as having a disability. Whether it was ignorance, bigotry or sheer shortsightedness of those who considered themselves so intelligent, provisions that would make it a civil right for gifted students to be given a challenging education were removed from the legislation. The gifted student generally languishes in most schools today. Meanwhile those with verifiable educational disabilities, who had long been forgotten, abused and relegated to the margins of society are receiving the education they deserve (theoretically).If you are upset about the state of education for the best brightest (by the way, an overwhelming number of whom have verifiable educational disabilities-called twice exceptional students), blame your mentors.

  15. Isn't linking, summarizing, and/or commenting on articles/posts/news stories written by others 80% of blogging?