Sunday, May 22, 2005

Promoting Sameness: A Lack of Excellence in America

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.

10 comments:

bevjackson said...

You better believe it! Oh, don't get me started! Excellent, Sharon, and right on. We NEED to get this man and his ilk out of office ASAP. As it is, generations will be digging out from the rubble of his errors and greed. I'm sick, sick, sick too of the educational LIES that our Californian governor, the inimitable Arnold, is using to destroy this state as well. What is the MATTER with American voters? Are 52% of them on drugs???Or God???

P. A. Moed said...

Sharon,

So true. That's why we opted out of the public schools for my son's high school. At his new school, he can excel in history and science, take mainstream classes for math and Latin, and take academic skills classes for English. At the end of the year, he made a movie on the Warsaw Uprising which demonstrated how much he knew on the subject. When he was in public school, he was labeled "special ed" and consistently scored below his peers on the standardized tests.

By standardizing educational goals and norms, we are lumping all our students into one mediocre classification.

What happened to celebrating the unique thinker and learner?

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Bev, I have a feeling that for many, God is a drug. I have no problem with an individual's personal beliefs, but the kind of blind faith that seems to be growing more and more prevalent these days is truly scary. I balk at any group or person who tries to tell me what and how to think, but apparently many people like being led, regardless of where they are taken.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Patti, you are confirming my own worst fears about the public school system as my daughter gets ready to enter it next fall. We had her tested last summer and found that she is 'gifted', reading at that time (just turned 4) at the early middle school level. The school is going to let her go into First Grade instead of Kindergarten, but I am dubious as to whether that will be enough for her. My biggest fear is that because she thinks and learns differently from other kids, she will become bored and grow disinterested in learning. I am preparing myself for the possibility that I may have to homeschool her.

What worries me in the larger scheme of things is, what about the leaders of the future? I agree, all kids deserve a good education and the chance to meet their own potential, but let's face it, some have greater potential than others. Shouldn't we be working particularly with those bright, unique thinkers - the ones who have the greatest potential? Or do we really want a future shaped and led by the average?

Ginger said...

This whole deal irks me. For a week prior to the silly tests, notes were sent home from school urging us to feed our children good quality breakfasts, ensure a good night's sleep, blah-blah. Not so the children would be able to learn the regular lessons, but to ensure they'd pass the goofy TEACHER'S TEST! Following the testing, the children were given two days of parties to celebrate.

I only wish they'd put as much effort into teaching each student as they do into passing their own exams. My children were well aware of the disparity, and felt insulted by it. But I could go on for days about teaching and testing methods and how I feel about them....

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Yes, the tests are all about the teachers, and not about the kids or whether they're learning. They are no measure of teaching, learning, or anything remotely useful. Kids are losing out on quality, individualized education, and we're letting the future of our country slip away. What a shame.

P. A. Moed said...

Sharon--

From my experience, you're going to have to be aggressive in making sure your daughter gets the challenges she needs OR you'll have to supplement them herself. We did both those things and it's worked. But you can not expect the school will do it because they will be excited by your child's unique gifts. In fact, you may find the opposite--that the overworked teacher(s) may find it an annoyance. Be prepared!!

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Thanks Patti! The more I read about gifted kids, the more I'm realizing that it's all going to be up to me to demand and/or provide what she needs. I may come asking you for advice from time to time.

Dave Clapper said...

Harrison Bergeron, anyone?

Sharon Hurlbut said...

I've never read that one before, Dave - thanks for mentioning it. Scary!