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Educating all special learners including the most gifted

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Writing about the misdirection of the national conversation by pundits and policy "wonks," I need to offer one more example of how the pundits and bogus reformers, with the media's help, is pointing the conversation in the wrong direction. These "experts" and the media who push their agenda have hobbled our most talented future citizens. Here is  an example that actually targeted our top learners for failure, while tying the hands of the classroom practitioner.

A recent article In Education NowAre We Lifting All Boats offers real insight into an unseen inequality of education that is depriving this nation of something that made us great ... the education in our public schools of our gifted learners who come from all families in income levels. As the media talks endlessly about the results of "proficiency" demonstrated by tests, this article offers another view into real efficiency, and the  dreadful effect of enforced anti-learning policies. 

These policies are given high-sounding names, like "No Child Left Behind," an Orwellian double-speak that leaves all children behind --  especially those who once formed the pool of our future leaders -- the top learners who would lead our country to greatness. Policymakers have concentrated on the deficiencies of the lowest achievers, thus disabling the fast learners.

Our most successful Americans were drawn from public schools which recognized ALL kids but made an effort to spur achievement for the top and not just the bottom. China targets the most able learners and makes sure they get the education they need. We do the opposite and wonder why our students are failing.

Any teacher can tell you that enormous time is devoted to helping all emergent learners grasp concepts. A real practitioner can explain the lost time in moving forward when the need is for endless repetition and review needed to bring up the proficiency of so many low-achievers in the class. That is why the charter schools eliminate them from admission. Public schools need to address the needs of ALL learners.

As a teacher and the mother and grandmother of gifted learners who faced similar school deficiencies where gifted education was the need, I can tell you that the schools fail again in this regard, because they refuse to listen to the PRACTITIONER in the room, and what is needed to meet all students efficiency.

Experienced teachers, pushed into retirement to silence their voices, remember when classes were grouped by learning levels so that the brightest kids had the opportunity to fly, to move forward at speeds unattainable by slower learners. And, at the same time, the students who needed more time to learn had the opportunity for lessons created for their level of proficiency.

This is one of the least studied disastrous effects of the policies directed from above -- the mainstreaming of low achieving and disabled learners into classrooms, in the mistaken notion that there is some profit to them from being in the midst of kids who are able learners, as if it is somehow "catching" and enables them to do better. Instead, the reality is they are demoralized by witnessing kids whose hands are waving all the time, even as the curriculum slows down all learning in that room.

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In the "olden" days, when I began teaching in 1963, in the top class or the lowest achieving classes the teacher could plan effectively for a range of intellect and skills, and then group the less-able learners -- in this more homogeneous class -- among them. In the classrooms where emergent learners needed more time, teacher-practitioner could assess the problems and plan effectively. Now, this is impossible, but the student's lack of progress will be used to evaluate the teacher. It is lose ... lose.

Overcrowded classrooms are filled with huge numbers of kids, where few get a chance to participate in a meaningful way, but the top learner never gets the chance to excel. THIS is a national disgrace that leaves our most proficient learners behind the rest of the world at a time when this spells disaster.

I taught both ends of the spectrum successfully. But, that was then, and this is now, and I could not possibly be successful now, despite my education, my experience and a real gift for my profession -- pedagogy -- enabling the human brain to acquire skills and knowledge.

The "experts" would condemn me, not the system that disabled learning, and the media would explain that I was "dead-wood." This is the new national conversation that ignores the principle of truth.

One more thing that pertains to the fallacious reasoning that perpetuates the worst policies not only in education, but in government. Reasons for Reason, by Michael P Lynch, in The New York Times online "Opinionator," offers a brilliant discussion on why people believe what they believe; why our principles tell us what is rational to believe and what sources of information to believe. In a time when outright lies are being expounded by politicians who desire to lead our nation, and disseminated by media that panders to those who have the money, and thus the access, it is interesting to see such a piece.   

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Lynch addresses education as well -- "Even if, as the skeptic says, we can't defend the truth of our principles without circularity, we might still be able to show that some are better than others."

I hope I have shown that the truth the professional teacher offers is better than that offered by pundits and reformers who never set foot in today's classroom. I hope you will send others to my writing on the subversion of the national conversation about education reform.


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I began teaching in 1963,; Ba and BS in Education -Brooklyn College. I have the equivalent of 2 additional Master's, mainly in Literacy Studies and Graphic Design. I was the only seventh grade teacher of English from 1990 -1999 at East Side Middle (more...)

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I have taught gifted students and the lowest achie... by Susan Lee Schwartz on Thursday, Oct 6, 2011 at 9:31:43 PM