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I started this post in response to a really well thought out and written post currently on the main feed. As I got into my response, I realized I was not going to be able to complete my response within the word limitations allowed at my level of membership. So this is going to be a post of its own.
My whole teaching experience was with kids whose behavior caused them to be removed from general ed classes where they caused disruptions that interfered with the learning experiences of more well-behaved students. For some of the kids I worked with, the mere difficulty of the curriculum and their unpreparedness for it was the cause of their outbursts. Others, though fully capable of doing the work, were dealing with emotional or physiological problems that limited their ability to sit in a classroom with between 25 and 30 other students without doing something to draw attention to themselves. So, given that, I can truly say that I have a fair perspective on the ability of some kids to achieve real academic success and some to be better candidates for more vocational tracts. The absurdity that every kid should have the opportunity to go to college never closed the deal with me. Anyone who has taught at the elementary and middle school level can clearly see that some kids, no matter how much individual attention they are given will never meet the standards we used to associate with a high school diploma, much less be able to go into a college and achieve even higher academic skills.
When I started teaching in the late 1960s kids were placed in groups based on their demonstrated skills in reading and math. Ultimately, that led to one classroom being made up of the slowest kids. That placement wasn’t a death sentence. Kids could make improvements and move to higher-level classes, but as a general rule, what kids demonstrated in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade levels was pretty much what would be the pattern of their academic career. Unfortunately, a large percentage of those kids were African-Americans. That wasn’t acceptable, so the concept of ability grouping was dropped.
When I taught middle school, I would get kids in my classes who came to 6th grade with sub-3rd grade reading levels, with spelling ability even lower, and almost no math facts, much less the ability to perform basic algorithms. If a child has only achieved two years of academic progress in five years of schooling, it is unlikely that he/she is going to make up that deficit before reaching high school. Even with individualized instruction in a classroom with a maximum of ten students and a full-time aide raising the skill levels of one of those students by more than a year in one academic year was nearly impossible. And the kids I worked with were not unusual in terms of their academic skills.
When you place a student with those kinds of skills in a general ed classroom with 25 students and present them with “grade level” curriculum, you are not going to improve their skills to a noticeable level. They are more than likely to be further turned off and to lose whatever skills they do possess and are not practicing. So the integrating of students of widely different ability levels does not benefit the poorer students, and, if the teacher’s attentions are being drawn necessarily to those students, the students of higher ability are being deprived of what they need. Even with as few as ten students, I found it difficult at times to meet the needs of individuals whose skills either exceeded or trailed those of the group. Specialized materials which allowed for individual instruction helped, but there was still a need to give each student individual instruction time apart from the group, and here I am speaking about one subject area, math. When you consider reading, language arts, social studies, and science, all of which require grade-level reading skills, a student who is lagging in reading and math by more a grade level is going to continue to decline academically if he/she is grouped with students who are at grade level or higher.
What I am saying here is not unknown. It is well known to any teacher, but speaking it is heresy or worse. In the current environment of academia we are supposed to believe that all students can be raised to comparable levels of academic skill. In truth, it is more likely that to achieve the goal of comparable levels there has to be a real diminution of higher-level skills. The concept of achieving equity, the equality of outcome is absurd.
We aren’t born equal. Life gives each of us burdens and advantages. Beyond that, there are things innate in us that determine the course of life we choose. I loved academia. I love learning. I loved the classics. I am a reader. I cannot remember any time in my life when I wasn’t involved in one book or another beginning when I was about eight years old and read All About Dinosaurs by Roy Chapman Andrews. I love books. I always have and I always will. On the other hand, I was never a good team player. I never really liked baseball, football, or basketball. I fenced and I SCUBA dived and I rode horses. Later in life, I became a mountain climber and cyclist. That is me, I am an individual, as are all people. Who I am or what I am is not a product of my race or, in many ways, my family background. None of those things I mentioned above were of any interest to my parents, other than reading, or my two brothers. We three siblings went in totally different directions, followed our own interests and talents.
Given that background, I know that college was for me a wonderful experience. It allowed me to explore a wide range of subjects that fascinated me. It wasn’t preparation for a profession. In fact, there was very little I taught as a teacher that I learned much beyond middle school in my own education.
Let me bring this back to what I really want to say. The idea that a school can function like a factory, produce perfect little equal products is idiotic. A manufacturer gets raw material from which he creates his product. There is a consistency to the raw materials which does not exist in the human world. People aren’t equal. They may be equal in terms of their rights. They may be entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunities, but the outcome of those does not guarantee that they will all end up the same, like a manufactured product at the end of a production line.
Donald Trump and I went to Kew Forest School in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York. We had a terrific coach, Charles Delahunt, Dell is what we called him. Dell’s big thing was soccer. He turned out some great teams and some great individual players. I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t that fast or coordinated on my feet. Donald Trump was a great soccer player, far better than I was even though he was two years younger than me. We had the same coach, the same opportunities. He was just better than I was. That is reality. If Dell had spent lots of extra hours trying to turn me into a better soccer player it would have made no difference, certainly not enough to compensate for the inherent differences in our levels of talent. In the end, we each achieved what we wanted from life. I don’t feel any less because Donald ended up as President of the United States and I am a retired teacher enjoying my golden years doing exactly what I want to do.
I feel like I am going a long way out of my way to come back a short distance correctly. The children that come to school are all different. Some of them will be turned on to learning no matter what their backgrounds. Others will find nothing that grabs them, particularly now that industrial arts classes like Metal Shop, Wood Shop, and Gas Engines are no longer part of the curriculum in a lot of schools. The entire concept of “equity” is bankrupt. It isn’t grounded in reality. I have known a lot of people who were mediocre students in school who became very successful when they matured to adulthood. I have known a few who were worse than mediocre and have also succeeded. I have known some who were stars in the classroom but failed miserably as adults. A person’s academic career is rarely an absolute indicator of where they will be as adults. Trying to create equity by dragging everyone down into the same pool of mediocrity helps no one, and may just ruin the chances of a few who might change the world. End of rant!Published in