What about the stupid ones?
My graduating year, 1993, was the last year before the mandatory proficiency testing that students now have to pass before they can graduate. We weren't lucky enough to get out of testing though, as we got the pleasure of being the guinea pigs for the state and federal government agencies who thought these tests were a good idea. Throughout my junior and senior year, my classmates and I endured no less than seven versions of the test; each one slightly different based on the previous testing results. It was rather frustrating, but that's not the point of this post.
One thing those test-tests did was expose the senior students who weren't quite making the grade expected of twelfth grade students. While it was supposed to be a secret decision, I know of four students in my small class of sixty that were, "passed through" the system and allowed to graduate despite their failing grades and obvious lack of readiness to enter the next stage in life. And therein lies my questions/issues.
Our first President Bush created the now famous, No Child Left Behind campaign in the late '80's. The basic premise being that no child, no matter their lack of wisdom, social status, disability, race, living environment, or anything else, would be the cause of that child not getting the same education as the next. Period. But my thought is this..... I think that's an impossible dream. There's just no way we can ever -- despite any kind of plans, whether regional or national -- guarantee that every child will have those opportunities and garner those results.
Here's what I mean..... The four students in my class, a couple being good friends, were never going to have what it took to advance past the school requirements they would have faced if they had been born one year later; they simply didn't have the brains for it. I'm not being mean, in fact quite the opposite, I'm being realistic. As hard as they tried, as much as they studied, as willing as they were for help, they didn't have what it mentally took to match the level of knowledge required to be a twelfth grade graduate. And that is the thing I'm afraid our PC culture won't admit: that there are different people and those differences come through in many ways. If we all had the same basketball skills, we'd all play in the NBA. Likewise, if we all had the same brain-potential as each other, there would be no need for places like Yale and MIT. We are each different in our own ways, and some of us simply aren't as smart as other people.
The first argument I'm sure to face is the act of trying. I won't argue that many kids who don't graduate from high school, or don't seem like they have good brainwaves, are just refusing to try. The reason I don't think this is a relevant argument (not relevant to here, anyway), is that I'm not talking about people who won't work as hard. The kids I'm talking about are the ones who try just as hard as they can, who study as much as they can, who use tutors and job aids and whatever else they can find, and still come short. I'm talking about my friend, let's call him T., who sat with me during many lunch periods trying to understand the most basic algebra and figure out the most basic parts of a poem. The same guy who for all the energy he could muster, couldn't remember the difference between the Civil War and the Revolutionary. Being emotional as I am, I sometimes had to fight back tears as I tried to help him. His brain was not advanced past probably the eighth grade, and there was nothing he could do to change that. He was trying, and trying hard.
In thinking of T., I have to ask, when do we stop trying and accept the reality of the situation? There was a lot of wasted time and energy and money spent on him that could have better spent on someone else if only someone had been honest about their findings. What the heck are you implying, Sam? I'm implying that maybe we should be leaving some children behind.
One reason for my thoughts centers around finances. I had a friend who used to teach in an inner-city school in a bad section of L.A. She saw sports cut first, then music and choir, then extended art classes, all in the name of finances. She taught from years-old outdated textbooks, many missing pages and sometimes entire chapters. She saw the hours of the school day cut every year, one year by a full half hour. But you know what didn't get cut and was fully funded? The special-ed classes. They stayed fully financed and at one point more money was being spent on 10% of the kids than all the other 90% combined. As you could have guessed, the lack of good schooling being done with the normal students caused many of them to end up in the special classes. The good of the few outweighed the good of the many. The ironic -- not funny -- part was that the special-ed classes soon had too many students and not enough funding and were discontinued. The school was consolidated and closed the next year. Why in the world did the brain-lacking students, who very likely were never going to be as smart as the normal children, get so much money and attention that could have been going to those who deserved it as humanly more superior?
Before I get stoned, I want you to know I'm horribly torn I feel this way. I have a very dear-to-me niece and nephew that are going to require a little extra help as they get older. And I would be the first one to argue that they deserve the same chance every other child gets. But I have to be realistic and ask, where does that end? In my class of sixty there were four. In other parts of the country, those numbers have been known to be closer to 35%. Think about that. One in three kids may not have what it takes to be at high school equivalency. Is it really in our best interest to throw all the money from our already-red-taped school districts at a group of people who may not benefit from it anyway?
I guess the first conversation needs to be, does our extra help actually improve the brains of these kids. I don't have that answer. If it does, I can't argue we should be helping these kids to reach the average potential of everyone else. If it doesn't, then we are wasting our money. The problem I still have, is that I have the gut feeling the PC generation we live in will never admit these kids aren't going to improve. No one wants to be that bad guy.
I could write all night and touch one point after point. But I probably already made this too long to have been read by many. So what do you think? And please be honest. It makes no sense to me to be otherwise.