Last year's animated movie The Incredibles took a comic book view of a world in which superheroes were forced to conform by hiding their superpowers and pretending to be merely average.
In one scene, the young son complains about not being able to use his extraordinary powers by competing in track, powers he believes make him special. The mother tells him that everyone is special, at which the boy ruefully observes that this is just another way of saying no one is.
It's an astute observation, and one which I believe applies all too increasingly in the United States. Call it political correctness or dumbing down, but whatever the label, the result is the same - we are becoming a society in which the least common denominator is preferred over individual expression or superior achievement.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the American educational system. The No Child Left Behind Act posits the absurd notion that testing children at each grade level will provide a means of holding teachers and schools accountable for their education. As President Bush says in his foreward to the NCLB Act: "If our country fails in its responsibility to educate every child, were [sic] likely to fail in many other areas."
The result of mandating that every child, including those with learning disabilities, non-English speakers, and others, be 'educated' (i.e., pass standardized tests) is that schools must now put all their efforts into reaching these arbitrary goals instead of educating children individually, according to each child's abilities. And one of the consequences of this is that gifted or advanced students have increasingly fewer programs and resources available. Who has time to help the very brightest achieve even more when it is an absolute requirement that slower learners must attain a level of proficiency determined by the federal government?
A clear example of this is happening at Portland's Franklin High School, where Honors classes are being phased out in favor of 'academies' in which all students are lumped together and taught a single curriculum, regardless of academic achievement, ability, or even previously completed coursework: The sorry demise of high school honors classes. Apparently, providing the opportunity for students to excel is less important than rigorously shoving everyone into a middle ground of mediocrity.
Are we sacrificing our country's future in the name of equal opportunity? One thing seems apparent - while no child is left behind, no child can get ahead.