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Friday, February 24, 2006

Gifted and Talented

Dr. Helen has a discussion about gifted programs in school. An article discussed what educators in Montgomery County, Maryland are doing.

But this fall, educators decided to try a different approach. Instead of selecting a few hundred students for traditional school magnets, officials opened magnet programs at three middle schools to everyone.

"We've changed from labeling children to labeling services," Horn said. "It's not whether you're gifted, it's what's appropriate for you."


To that, Dr. Helen responds:

Oh sure, this method will really fool the kids--think they don't understand the hypocrisy of leveling the playing field? Of course they do. In my daughter's school, when the mentally handicapped kids are called over the intercom for special classes, they announce, "Will all of the 'Smart' kids come to Room 101." The whole school, from kindergarteners to 5th graders look at each other in amusement that the school is calling the handicapped kids smart. How silly is that? And how silly is it to let teachers observe kids to determine if they are "gifted" instead of allowing for some set of standards to do the sorting for them?


I was a participant in various gifted and talented programs [based on standardized exams], honors classes, and AP classes. The ones in elementary school I didn't like: they were basically extra work. We got to learn about astronomy or architecture, and debate topics like how to help a hypothetical future overcrowded prison in Earth orbit (ha!), but at the end of the day, we were forced to study the same mathematics we learned on our own years earlier, and were subjected to reading materials far below our level.

Honors classes were better, as for once we were doing better work. And I personally wasn't stressed by these "harder" classes; in fact, being in a class with other smart kids who wanted to learn significantly lessened social pressures.

My four AP classes gave me college credit. I suspect I may have been able to take other exams and pass them, just based on my capacity to remember useless information. But again, credit came from objective measurements.

Dr. Helen is absolutely right that kids understand what's going on. We knew that the (Grade Level)-2 class generally had the brighter students than the (Grade Level)-1 class. We knew the smaller reading classes were grouped by ability. And we absolutely knew what "special" meant. (Not "especially smart," that's for sure.) Make those distinctions clear.

Mainstreaming: it causes problems. If it were to be looked at honestly, educators would recognize that being known as "different" by EVERY OTHER KID is far more damaging to one's self-esteem than being in a "special" class. [WARNING: Reminiscing about an "innocent" time, before kids learned it's not polite to say certain things or be petty, is ahead.] One elementary school I attended was built next to the school for... well, we kids used the scientific term "retards." First off, we hated that only that school had air conditioning and an oven (not just a microwave) for heating lunches (soggy pizza = yuck!), and they got cakes, etc. But the worst venom was reserved for the few kids who split time between the two places. The perception was, "That lame-o spends lunch, recess, and study hall here, and class time with the retards."

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