Saturday, July 25, 2009

Schools and the Idea of Fairness

I've been thinking a lot about the start of school and what that will mean for our family this year. (We will be going back to the same school with the same teacher, for a number of reasons. I am hopeful, but not convinced there will be great change.) In preparation for that, I've been reading a book called Genius Denied, by Bob and Jan Davidson. Lots of ideas that keep popping into my head while I read, but one of the most remarkable arguments they make is on the subject of "equality in schools."

Having been a teacher myself, in public, charter, and private schools, I know this feeling well. Especially because I worked with the underprivileged. Its a pervasive idea in American education: equality for all students means that each child should strive to be the best human he/she can be and to stay at grade level. We try to teach tolerance, character, and responsibility and these are good things to do, but we often do it to the detriment of teaching academics. And being at grade level is a lofty goal for many of the students I have taught, but when dealing with the gifted, it is a crime to ask them to stay on grade level. Without a specific program for the gifted, it becomes a situation of not allowing them to proceed even if they would like to, partially for the comfort of the student (be like everyone else) and partially for the comfort of the other students (everyone else is just like you).

It's a seductive argument. It makes it easier to teach, seems very inclusive as everyone gets what appears to be equal treatment, and it seems as though no one is really harmed in the process. I plead guilty to having been lured into this arrangement. But I can see how it can be just as harmful to require a gifted child to continue regurgitating math facts when he is capable of moving on to algebra, as it would be to require a student who is not reading at grade level to jump two or three ahead. Those at the bottom of the pile have lots of resources and should. But those at the top have little help and that's a shame. We are wasting their talents, and shamelessly.

I hope to be the advocate for my kid this year, who seems to be on the small end of the bell curve. It's just not the small end that gets the attention. It's my belief that he is no less deserving of having his special needs met as well.

1 comment:

Ket said...

Absolutely! Go get 'em.