Monday, December 13, 2010

Life sorts us into piles naturally:
  • short people, tall people
  • artistic types, can't draw a stick figure
  • jocks, clutzies
  • rich, poor
  • musical, can't carry a note in a bucket
  • dark skinned, fair skinned
  • look good in a bikini, look more like a beached whale
  • leaders, followers
  • mechanically inclined, can't open the hood of the car
  • math savvy, can't make change from a 5 dollar bill at McDonald's

School tends to sort people as well, socially, academically, and athletically; the difference is, with the new Michigan Merit Curriculum, and similar educational 'plans' across the country, schools are now forced to squeeze all students into the same pile.

On the one hand, students all deserve the same opportunities. As adolescents, most students are not prepared to chart their own course for their futures, making sound decisions about their own course of study. Many would choose the path of least resistance, regardless of the future implications. Parents and educators need to be the guiding force for them, helping them carve a path with as many options as possible.

On the other hand, expecting every single student to graduate from high school with a diploma which prepares them for college is unrealistic and unnecessary. There need to options for all students, regardless of their academic abilities, options which prepare them for life beyond high school, with the basic skills they will need to be contributing members of society.

I don't care what we call these 'options' - Plan A and Plan B? Is that any worse than the current options of diploma and Certificate of Attendance? Plan A can be the college prep path, the more challenging classes, much like the current plan for all students. It will delve deeply into topics, including advanced sciences, math classes, literature, history. It will encourage students to think independently, write and respond to a variety of ideas and topics. These future college students will explore advanced math through algebra 2 and beyond. They will analyze historical events and their relevance.

Plan B will be less rigorous for certain, but still, preparing students for life beyond the high school experience. These students would learn to read and write, balance a checkbook, as well as life skills, like parenting, how to get and keep a job, and even perhaps vocational skills. They could learn a trade such as welding, woodworking, computer skills, or auto mechanics. But when they left school with that Plan B diploma, employers would be assured that students had met certain criteria and were indeed literate and competent in those skills.

Now, with the current plan, many students are forced to drop out of school, unable to meet the stringent requirements. They struggle to make it through Algebra 1, much less 3 more years of even more advanced math classes. They either give up completely, opt for a degree from an alternative program, or work for their GED. Whichever option they choose, it still takes them out of the public school, high school diploma pool.

Some argue against sorting students at such an early age, but as a long time middle school teacher, I can promise you that some students have already been 'sorted'. Their peers have sorted them in the classroom, on the basketball court, and at their social events, in and out of school.

If those against sorting are concerned we are limiting the future options of students with this plan, I ask them this: "Aren't we limiting their options even further by refusing to offer them appropriate options for their abilities?" Every time we hit that square peg a little harder and a little harder, trying to shove it through that round hole we are calling the curriculum, we beat that student down a little bit more and a little bit more, reminding them they will never measure up to our predetermined criteria that has been set for them.

If we are concerned some students with potential might choose the lesser challenging option, then let parents have some control over the decision. Let students choose to take the path of least resistance. It won't keep them from being able to go to college someday, it just might make that task a bit more challenging. In esscence, making their early on 'easy' choice come back to haunt them, so to speak.

We need all kinds of people in this world. We need lawyers and doctors, welders and mechanics, teachers and sales clerks, butchers and construction workers, truck drivers and secretaries, computer programmers and fast food cooks. Everyone contributes to our collective society. Everyone has a place. Shouldn't schools acknowledge the differences of students, and work to adequately prepare them for their roles, instead of trying to force them all into the college bound path?

No comments: