Longtime visitors will remember my affection for Robert Weissberg’s Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, which I recommend as a bracing tonic against the scourge of “No child left behind” educational romanticism — the notion that all children are capable of learning at a high level, and the notion that drives much of the current nonsense about how we need to send more people to college.
One of the practical ramifications of this mentality is that kids with severe intellectual or behavioral deficiencies (who are euphemistically referred to as “exceptional children”) are often “mainstreamed” — a term for dropping them into the regular classroom. I’m not talking about wheelchair-bound kids or kids with speech or hearing difficulties — I’m not even talking about Asperger’s sufferers or high-functioning autistics; I’m talking about children who can’t function in the traditional classroom without significant intervention in the form of handlers or moose-tranquilizing levels of medication. However, because everyone is a special snowflake, these kids are too often inserted into the traditional classroom, to the detriment of their classmates (and honestly, with little benefit to the mainstreamed student, excluding some boost in self-esteem either for them or their parents.)
My wife is a public school teacher in Mondoville, and a damned good one — she was named one of the top five teachers in the state a couple of years back, and has earned other awards and achievements as well. Although she wouldn’t say this, I’ve noticed that when she talks about her day, a disproportionate amount of her effort (and her frustration, although Mrs. M will put up with stuff that would exasperate Job) is devoted each year to a very small percentage of her students. Does she love them? Absolutely, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that they often drag the rest of the class down, either because they act as a brake on what can be covered or because controlling their behavior consumes ridiculous amounts of instructional time.
And on the other side of the desk, students like the Spawn are overlooked and unchallenged, at least in part because of the resources that legally have to go to the “exceptional” children. Indeed, the first governmental function I attended in Mondoville was a school board meeting that targeted gifted and talented programs for cuts, and even in some cases for elimination. One school board member told us that he saw his job as working on things for the majority of students — the fat part of the Bell. That’s reasonable, and those kids are probably due a lion’s share of resources; however, when their needs are met (more or less), and when services for exceptional children are mandated, what does that leave for the kids at the Bell’s right end? (Answer: not much.)
Again, I realize the kids didn’t choose to be messed up; they can’t help it. Neither do I think they should be treated with less dignity than any other child of God. However, we are confronted again with the scarcity of resources. Classroom time is a zero-sum game. The more time Mrs. M has to spend going over a point for Susie (who still won’t get it, because she can’t) or keeping Timmy from assaulting his classmates (or from assaulting her — ask her about the scars on her arms that perfectly match the size and shape of a 7-year-old’s fingernails), the less time she can spend encouraging, explaining… teaching the other kids.
All this leads me to a post by GhettoPuter chez Gormogon. ‘Puter has a public schoolteacher for a spouse as well, and has seen much of what I see. His observations are trenchant, possibly inflammatory, and worth your attention.