Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Equal But Not The Same

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal."  If more poignant words are held in such esteem in this country, I don't know what they are.  Even people with only a basic understanding of American government know these words, "all men are equal."  It's a great start for a government.  The idea of living in a world of equals, wow.  Where each person has the opportunity regardless of what their parents chose to go anywhere and do anything that they can reach for.

In the not so distant past these words led people to decry slavery, to decry segregation, to bus together kids from different neighborhoods so that all would have the same opportunity to learn in the prominent public school system.  A system that started as the brain child of the same man who penned the declaration that all men are created equal.   It was his idea that all children should receive a basic education that would provide for them the fundamentals of reading, writing, and maths, which would enable each citizen to knowledgeably vote in government elections, to be able to follow the news of the day, and to figure ones own taxes.
I'm sure we can all see how well that's working out for people.  Figuring taxes is now a major profit industry!  Although, to give credit to my high school economics teacher, because of her I do still figure my taxes by hand each year, before double checking them with a software program.  Still, I know for me and many others I've talked to the public school system, in it's goal of having all people equal, failed most all of us.  It kinda reminds me of the Pixar film Rattatouille, when the chef says that "Anyone can cook," and it's revealed that not everyone can be a great cook, but a cook can come from anywhere.  Hmm, maybe those guys felt let down by their schools too.  I propose that all men are created equal, but they are not created the same.

In my high school the everyone is equal idea hit it's pinnacle with the school motto:  Where Excellence Is Average.  It was a noticeable problem to the students, and it became even more glaring when the "real world" came barging in upon graduation.  For those of us that went to college we were so far behind what was expected that even having taken AP and Honors classes we had to take remedial classes to get up to a collegiate level.  My friends that went to top schools had it even worse and many just couldn't catch up.  4 years of kicking it back paid a dastardly toll on their ability to live up to their potential.  Personally, I had never had a class which required so much of me that I had to take notes, study, or in most cases even open the text.

Why does "Where Excellence Is Average" fail?  Because it tries in vain to assume that all students are the same.  That we all have the ability to learn the same materials, at the same pace, in the same settings.  I have 3 kids and even though they are not all at the same developmental phase, I can tell you that in my house that just isn't true.  These kids have similar genetics and the same economic setting and they are all very different learners reaching out to different concepts at different times with different goals for their lives.  So, in it's strive to graduate intellectual clones, what my high school ultimately accomplished was graduating ignorant unprepared high schoolers who are not ready to either continue their education or take their place in the world.  Oh sure, some of my classmates have gone on to do wonderful things with their lives, but their formal education was not the aid that it should have been, and in many cases it has been a hindrance to where they really could be.

I wish I could hold my high school out as a single failure among a thriving system, but in my state my high school at the time was considered the best the system had to offer.  At the end of the month my daughter will be entering a local kindergarten.  This whole thing terrifies me!  What if she is pushed back, bored, and utterly not prepared to pursue her dreams and to use her mind to it's fullest?  I'm not saying she's a prodigy, but doesn't she deserve to be pushed to her best?  Isn't best for the future of our world for each child to be pushed to the achieve the most that they can in developing their skills, talents, and analytical mind?

Isn't it time that we accept that while all children are created equal, that all children are not the same?  Shouldn't we finally realize that while a minimal standard is a goal we need to get all children over for the sake of our society, it should remain simply that, a minimum standard.  That for those that are struggling to meet it, they should be in a place where they can receive the help they need without feeling inferior to their peers.  At the same time, isn't it also in our best interest to maintain a challenge for those who find particular subjects too easy?  Idle minds lead not only to lost potential, but also to a variety of other potential downfalls, even if those of us that survive those downfalls do have great stories to swap later in life. I mean, who can't say the worked out the formula for C4 and attempted to make in their bathroom sink?  Of course now with the internet, I suppose most kids would just Google it.

Sure I could home school my children.  I could push myself to an academic mastery of the myriad of subjects I feel are vital for success in society for the sake of my children, and I still might.  Yet, for us, at least with my oldest, homeschooling is not the best learning environment for her.  She seems to need others that she can demonstrate her knowledge to in a kind and teaching sort of way.  I suppose if it were economically feasible she could attend a private school where the expectations would be maintained at a higher level.  Yet, it's not currently feasible.

Is it really so demeaning to have a child that isn't excelling academically, that the need to wait for those who fall behind or need extra help causes those that are ahead to be forced to sit on their hands while they catch up?  Is it so awful for a teacher to divide her class into ability levels and to prepare separate challenges for those who accelerate through the standard lesson?  The school I have chosen for my daughter claims to attempt these things.  We shall see if it bears fruit.  If it does, and not just for those ahead, or those behind, but for all students, then I hope we can continue to find such programs wherever we go.  Because it IS time for us to acknowledge that all children are created equal, but they are not the same, they do not learn in the same ways, at the same times, but regardless of where they begin, they all have the potential to achieve their goals if given the time and opportunity.

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