read more: Boston Herald
When the big yellow school bus pulls up to the curb this week, ask almost any mother how her kids perform in school. No doubt the vast majority will tell you that their children are above-average students. (The few who don’t will be sure to explain that their children are extremely intelligent but struggle in school due to learning disabilities.)
In some middle-class communities, where people can pave their children’s way to college and gainful employment with myriad tutors, SAT coaches, private sports coaches and family connections, a parent’s distorted view of his child often becomes self-fulfilling prophecy.
Indeed throughout suburban Massachusetts, parental delusions are encouraged by a culture that deliberately obscures the differences in children. (It’s always easier to convince yourself that your child is gifted when nobody evaluates her to see how she measures up.)
We’ve all heard about youth sports where every kid gets a participation trophy – irrespective of performance, talent or even effort. But did you know that many public schools do the academic equivalent?
Elementary schools increasingly utilize fuzzy grading systems that tell parents only whether their children have met basic expectations and are “on grade level.” Report cards tell parents nothing about their children’s strengths and weakness or whether the child struggled to reach grade level or did so with ease. This, of course, is precisely the point – to award actual letter grades would mean differentiating among students – something all but the parents of the highest achievers would likely protest.
In middle school, such a large number of students are placed on the honor roll as to make that distinction meaningless. Some schools have eliminated that time-honored tradition altogether to avoid hurt feelings or, more likely, the wrath of angry parents.
The trend in public high schools is to eliminate class rankings. Some now refuse to offer Advanced Placement courses in English, history or the social sciences because, well, all of the students are so bright that selecting just a few for AP work in these disciplines would seem arbitrary. (Harder, of course, to make the same argument for math and science, where the numbers speak for themselves.)
No wonder so many suburban parents oppose MCAS and those pesky little letters that come every fall informing them that, perhaps, little Sophie and Jack are, dare I say, average?
Our collective academic blindness has an equally pernicious corollary: the notion that every child should attend a four-year college. It is politically incorrect to suggest that some people just aren’t “college material.”
The reality, however, is that our colleges and universities admit far too many kids who are unlikely to earn a degree, not to mention “students” who spend four (or five or six) years boozing and functionally failing before finally graduating. College shouldn’t be just a “right of passage.” A college education that fails to educate, increase job prospects, boost earning potential or inspire a lifelong love of learning is a waste.
As Massachusetts heads back to school, we would do well to remember that children have different gifts. True success should be rewarded and pointed to as an example. We do not fail as a community when we acknowledge people’s academic differences – we fail when we paper them over.