TELLING WHAT WE KNOW
ALL KIDS CAN’T LEARN EVERYTHING
When I was young, some of the tough old teachers I had in
elementary school used to talk about the smart kids and the dumb kids.
There was even the dreaded Miss Trulsen, the scourge of the sixth grade
at PS 221, who looked up at us from her desk one day where she was scoring what
I now know was our group IQ tests to announce to the class that she finally
understood why my friend Marie didn’t do well in school.
“According to this test,” she fumed with downright glee in her eyes,
“You, Marie, are a moron.” I
suspect that the experience of that day motivated me to spend the major portion
of my teaching career voluntarily teaching the Maries of this world, time which
I don’t think I could have spent in any better way.
question, the modern thought that all children can learn has had dramatically
important, positive effects on the lives of countless students who in my day
were too often written off as essentially uneducable.
That said, it is equally beyond question that a false corollary to that
thought has slowly evolved that says that all children are capable of learning
all things. Said straight forwardly,
the absurdity of the proposition is self-evident, even I suspect to policy
makers who never taught a child anything. Yet,
in the politically correct world of public education, it is precisely that nutty
idea that is axiomatically accepted. It’s
at the core of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Worse still it erodes the academic standards in our highest achieving
districts when it is extended to solemnize the practice of teaching students of
widely disparate intellectual ability in the same class in the belief that all
students profit in this arrangement. They
When the Regents in New York, acting on the belief that all children can
learn all things, mandated that essentially all children pass Regents
Examinations to receive a high school diploma, one of the predictable results
was that those examinations would become the standard for what students needed
to know of any subject, even though the more able students were once expected to
know more. Also predictable was that
over time the examinations would grow easier to prove the efficacy of the
Regents’ policy. Easy though
most of the exams are, some children still fail.
As their failure challenges the assumption that all children can learn
all things, even many of these failing students are passed by groups of teachers
who review all failing papers again and again, searching for points in a process
called “scrubbing the grades” in New York City.
George Bush said, “Let there be yearly progress;” and there is yearly
progress in what has become the Orwellian world of public education.
will charge that I wish to close off access to richer curriculum for all
students. I do not!
I’m a teacher who taught Beowulf,
Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare to
students who could hardly read the words out of a deep belief that it was
important for them to know something about these works of art, if only to be
able to talk to their own kids about their homework.
I did so in classes whose composition permitted me the latitude to
explore these works in ways that worked for these students.
I’ll simply note that in the high school in my district, we don’t
teach Beowulf and Chaucer anymore.
We don’t even teach British literature.
It’s considered too hard. How
come it didn’t used to be?
IN CASE YOU MISSED PART
I , PART II or PART
III IN THIS
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