“You can’t get called on in math if you’re smart.”
My nine-year-old attends a class of 32 children at the local public school. The class includes both second and third graders, all of whom qualified for the district’s gifted program. When we left the Hoity Toity Private School my kids used to go to, I knew we were kissing those manageable class sizes (12-16) goodbye, but 32 seems awfully big, even for public school.
Then again, all of those Asian countries that regularly kick U.S. ass up and down the globe on achievement tests have much larger classes, so what’s to complain about?
From Little Bit’s perspective, there’s not enough talking time. According to her, she spends most of the day waving her arm in the air, hoping she’ll get called on to give an answer or express a viewpoint. (Side note: this same child had to be
bribed reinforced with Dora the Explorer toys just to say one word out loud in the classroom when she was in preschool—she was that shy. You’ve come a long way, baby!) Now she’s all set for lengthy discourse but has to compete with 31 other children for air time.
So she’s developed a new strategy: subterfuge. It seems the teacher is most likely to call on children who are not paying attention, as a means of re-engaging them. So Little Bit will feign inattention by looking down or playing with her pencil or anything other than raising her hand and making eye contact. Then, when the teacher calls on her, *bam* Little Bit knows exactly what’s going on and what the answer is. Ha!
Apparently even this trick fails in math class, because the teacher knows that Little Bit always knows the answer. As I’m sure I’ve
bragged about mentioned before, my kid is a wizard and by her lights, the math curriculum moves like molasses in winter, and I mean winter in some North Dakota kind of place, not the 50 and raining winter we have here.
The class is split up by grade for math, so it’s just the third graders, and they are all smart kids, but there’s no accommodation available for those who need to move at a different pace. It’s not that she isn’t learning anything; she is. But not nearly as much as she could and would like to.
Which brings me to a video I saw today. The New York Times runs video op eds on its website. In this one, titled “Advanced Pressure,” the film maker interviews high school teachers and students lamenting the existence of advanced placement (AP) classes. They’re toooo hard! It’s sooo much pressure! Our poor kids, what have we done to them?
I’ll tell you what we’ve done. We’ve encouraged kids who do not belong in AP classes to take them. Every year, Newsweek publishes a list of the nation’s top high schools. How does the magazine decide which high schools are the best? They count the number of students who take AP classes. Seriously, that’s it. The students do not have to pass the classes. They do not have to score well on the AP exams given for college credit at the end of the courses. They just have to enroll. The result: schools reallyreally want kids to take those classes. Kids who do not belong in AP classes are stressed and overwhelmed. Teachers who are supposed to cover a lot of ground in the classes are frustrated because the students can’t keep up.
I live in constant fear that the school district will eliminate the gifted program because it is, in the view of some, unnecessary/elitist/expensive. I also worry that by the time my kids get to high school, the AP curriculum will have been dumbed down to the point of worthlessness.
The film maker did not interview any AP students who said “this is the first time in my school career that I’ve ever been challenged,” but there are many such kids. Hope for the future of the nation that our bizarre anti-intellectual culture doesn’t make it a crime to be smart.