Monday, August 23, 2010

school day hypocrisy

I of my pet peeves is hypocrisy. Which means I get especially peeved when I exhibit it myself. It doesn't fit the textbook definition of hypocrisy, but I still feel like a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to my thoughts on education.

I've been back in my childhood home recently, after leaving for college 15 years ago. I've reconnected with a few people and have also "met" other people who had gone to school with me. It doesn't surprise me when I don't know my former classmates....I graduated in a class of 800...and we were a smaller class than many in the 10-12th grade high school. Further exacerbating the size issue is the fact that the school was VERY tracked, especially at the far ends of the bell curve. I took mostly honors classes which meant I really saw about 80 of the 800 members of the Class of 95 on a regular basis.

I benefited hugely from tracking. I had excellent teachers, many with graduate degrees, and smaller class sizes than the "average" courses. I took some classes at "regular" level to help stay sane and even as a teen noticed the discrepancy in the education provided. My honors classes sometimes resembled college courses in the expectations and content. I got a great education in them (and that's on top of being in a high-quality school district).

But I feel conflicted because I see that tracking can be so dangerous. It limits the educational opportunities of so many, including students who could really shine if given the right teachers (I am NOT saying there aren't GREAT teachers at all levels...totally generalizing here folks). I also know that tracking begins very early and becomes self-fulfilling. I took an education class and observed a first-grade classroom where the advanced reading group tended to be female and white, while all the minority boys were in the lower group. I worried that those labels would stay forever and that the children would be limited by them. I joke that my educational fate was determined because I was good at blocks and it just evolved from there (okay, no idea if I was good at blocks...but you get the idea).

So, I worry about tracking and labeling and object in principle. But I know that I was it's beneficiary. I also think that one of the greatest dangers to our public schools is that informed parents opt-out of the struggling districts, either by moving or by using an alternative school (private or charter). This leaves a more vulnerable group of children in schools where the parents are not as equipped to protest. Again, generalizing here...many of those parents are limited by economic and social factors from forcing a major change. I think flight is the biggest factor hurting our public schools....but I also know that if I were a parent I would put my own child's welfare above my philosophy and flee if I thought it was necessary. Which totally would make me part of the problem. And my mom definitely had my education in mind when we moved before 4th grade....because she knew it was important and had the economic ability to choose.

I'm not being overly articulate today. The battle between philosophy and practice (benefiting myself and a theoretical practice of my own) bothers me.

I'm darn good at guilt.

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