Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hard to Soar With Eagles When You Go to School with Buzzards

So, I have this friend. (He's not from North Carolina, btw). Sends his kid to quite a pricey private school.

And he (let's call him "Frank") is having a war with the school. His point is that the school represents itself as offering a very high quality education, and in fact works with each child.

Now, Frank is a bright guy. And his wife, with the exception of marrying Frank, is also as bright as they come. Their child is very, very smart. And he is now in the third grade.

(A personal note: my own sons, both of them, found third grade very difficult. The older one, Kevin, came home crying every day. "They just tell me things I already know, and they won't let me read!" Second son, Brian, was so bored that he got in trouble a lot. Not good. Fortunately, both went to public charter school the following year, and both have gotten challenging interesting lessons from teachers who want them to succeed ever since. SO, third grade is tough all over).

Frank's kid is acting out a bit, at this elite school where he is bored. He makes only a desultory effort at math problems, and if they are told to read a chapter in a book he reads the whole book and then goes on to something else.

School says there is a "problem." Frank says, "There sure is! You are not giving my kid any sort of challenging math questions, or letting him read on his own."

And Frank is right: it seems the school is more interested in imposing social control than in educating. And they are pretty honest about this. Frank goes to visit teachers and principals. All tell Frank that their main "mission" is to foster social equality. Part of that means paying extra attention to the weaker students, including those from the community who get "scholarships."

Now, these scholarships are money taken from Frank and other people (it's a private school, remember!), and given to people who could not send their kids to the school. I think that's a little strange, but okay: you could go somewhere else. If you sign up for this school, you must want to be part of this forced redistribution.

But here's the thing: the refusal to take a little extra time and give the top student some extra work, or different work.....THAT IS THE REAL STRATEGY FOR LEVELING. Not enough to help the weaker students. We have to hold the strong students back! Ayn Rand's ANTHEM was supposed to be just a story, not a documentary.

My man Frank sometimes thinks he is a liberal (he is NOT a Republican, that's for sure), but this is making him crazy. Why would a private school try to achieve social justice by withholding a quality education from THEIR BEST STUDENTS, THE ONES WHO PAY THE FREIGHT?

The final straw was when Frank got this email from someone at the school, which I reproduce verbatim below. It was in response to Frank's question about allowing students to go forward at their own paces:

I actually think the ability grouping hesitation is a philosophical one. Not wanting to have a group of eagles, hawks, cardinals and then buzzards. Easy to want the grouping when our children are eagles, less so if they are to be labeled buzzards. Huge topic in education but am happy to discuss.
[name redacted to protect the idiotic]

Childhood is a journey, not a race.


My own view? If you trap eagles, and make them live with buzzards, you end up with some pissed off eagles and frightened buzzards. And why add the pejorative labels anyway. All children are different. They learn at different rates, in different ways. Public schools might be constrained to try to make things more even by putting mental handcuffs on the smart kids. But why would a private school do that?

A final note: Frank claims that one of the other parents asked a school official, in quite a confrontational way, "What is THIS SCHOOL doing to improve public education in ?" Even the lefty-squishy school official was thrown by that one. Here is a wealthy white woman, who has chosen to pull her kid out of the public school and send him to the most expensive private school in the area. And she demands, from an official of THAT PRIVATE SCHOOL, an explanation on how the private school is working to make public schools better.

I'm afraid I would have answered, "Not enough to offset the damage that people like you are doing by sending their kids to private schools, I'm sure. But, thanks for doing it! We need the dough!" Talk about tracking! If all the parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools, we lose money, support, and diversity in the public schools. As I have noted, both my boys went to public schools, 4-12 grades. But we are lucky enough to live in North Carolina, which has pretty good public schools generally, and excellent charter and magnet schools, at least near Raleigh.

Boy, it just occurred to me. We should identify the best 20% of high schools in the state, and close them, right? Don't want any eagles around to make the buzzards feel bad.


Anonymous said...

I once had nursed a falcon
a year, or well beyond
But then, as I had tamed him
just right, no less, no more
and coverd all his feathers
in gold or else that shone
he lifted off my glove
and left me all alone.

Ever since I've admired his flight
Around his claws straps of silk;
around his head
halos of red and gold

If lovers be together, bless the lord.

(medieval poem)

Juris Naturalist said...

The public schools ground the eagles early. My daughter started kindergarden this year. They tested the kids first, to even out the classes. "Why not put all the bright kids in the same class and let them move forward faster?" I asked.
They're not allowed to do that.

Beth in PA said...

Well, at least Frank didn't get the answer I received when I made the same complaint to my younger son's 3rd grade teacher. Her solution to brighter kids not being challenged was to have them help the slower kids! My son, the parapro.

Anyway, that son is the author of Anti-Climacus; Duke is now the great leveler. In the long run, it all worked out.

Mungowitz said...

Beth: We are awfully glad to have him. He really DID turn out pretty well.

And it was 3rd grade for you, also! Amazing!

For those of you who want to check out Anti-Climacus (one of my favorite blogs, until the author was struck down by exams and the need to read about empirical theories of war in IR), the link is here...

Anonymous said...

There's something to be said for socializing the really smart kids alongside the less intelligent ones, to make them appreciate what they have and to be kind to those with less. That should happen, though, on the playground, not the classroom.