Let me preface this with a big shout-out to Parke Muth, a true Wise Elder in education, whose blogs I read religiously. I’m on the hunt, you see, for the Deep Thinkers and Big Visionaries of education with the hopes that we can convene together one day and bring some wisdom and sanity to this greatest-of-all-human-endeavors. I don’t feel comfortable criticizing from the sidelines…I want to actively engage in the solution. Until then, I keep calling out to my kindred spirits out there, asking if you see what I see and what we might do about it. Many people are in these discussions and I’m beginning to hear certain voices emerge. Parke’s is one. His is a voice of reason, compassion and intelligence and thank God he’s motivated to write for the rest of us, provoking the Deep Think stuff I love.
A few days ago he posted an op-ed from Slate entitled, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. A Manifesto.” The author believes that all children in the US should be forced to attend public school in order to protect that system. She attended public schools and admits that while she didn’t get a good education, she landed OK and so will everyone else. She makes the argument that sometimes individuals should have to take the hit for the greater good.
I love this kind of piece because it’s provocative. If we’re honest, we see the truth in her argument while also knowing that we might not’ve made the same decision because there are so many variables and humans are so darned independent and diversified.
Oh, and not everyone learns the same way, so one system just cannot fit all.
Now for the scary, heretical stuff…
That being said, I completely support her belief that all kinds of kids should be educated together. I no longer believe in stratifying the classroom. Slower learners should be elbow to elbow with quicker learners. Kids with LDs should be working with kids who have none. Advantaged ones should be seated next to poorer kids. Think one-room schoolhouse. Think we all learn differently and all help each other learn.
(I know, I know. Please don’t send me hate mail. )
I hear teachers say that there is just too much to teach now and the stakes are too high with state exams and NCLB rules. I hear that they often feel overwhelmed and disrespected and that this idea calls for a new skill set they might not have, so the status quo seems just fine. And the ACT tells us this summer that according to their exam results, fewer than 39% of the test takers are adequately prepared for college…
I hear friends say how the gifted and talented students are neglected and need so much more because, well, they are gifted and talented (meaning that they’re worth more to society somehow) and they get so easily BORED. Hmmm. Yeah, I drank the kool-aid on that one long ago but I’ve since changed my mind. I’ve met G&T kids who were just plain snobs or even worse, social brats. They typically don’t need more intellectual stimulation – smart kids create their own – but they often do need the reality check that in the scheme of things, emotional IQ matters more than intellectual IQ. (I wonder what would happen if the G&T teachers used their best skills with ‘average’ or ‘C’ students?) Learning to accept and work with others is crucial to our survival in the future.
What kids need more than anything in this era is compassion for themselves and others, to develop respect and civility. The learning will follow because kids are just as hardwired to learn as they are to walk.
Creating haves and have nots in education plants the seeds for civic discontent in the future. We keep patching a system that needs a fundamental shake-up since we can all agree that we don’t all agree about what kids should actually be learning now. In 1970, the US led the world in high school graduation. Today we’ve slipped to 21st. Only 21 states actually require mandatory high school attendance (there’s that state’s rights thing again). While more kids are graduating now than before (thanks, grade inflation!), there is still an unacceptable difference. 80% of whites and asians are graduating while only 55% of black and hispanic students are. Think about that. What is going on here and why is this OK?