Having retired from public education, I’ve had the time and perspective to think about a great many things with which I wrestled when I was teaching high school English. I’m certainly not going to attack my former colleagues, or even my former principals. My medium sized Texas High School had its problems, but on balance, and compared with so much about which I write, we did well, and there are many places much, much worse, so what’s the point? Poor personalities can make problems worse, of course, but the issue is the problem, not necessarily the personality.
Over what kinds of things am I exercising brain cells? Those cities/school districts that have, for years, even decades, screamed about the systemic racism infesting their schools. If they’ve been aware of it for so long, if they’re such dedicated and caring experts at establishing equity, equality, anti-racism, or whatever the hell it’s called today, why do their schools—usually exclusively in Democrat-ruled cities–remain such cesspools of racism? Is Racism so powerful it can never be routed regardless of the amounts of money and efforts of the most pure and evolved beings?
And the subject of today’s article: what’s wrong with advanced placement courses? AP classes, also commonly called “gifted and talented” classes, have, for decades, fulfilled a vital need in our schools. The very idea of such classes is outlandish and improbable, because in order for them to exist, schools—communities—have to accept the idea that some people are smarter and more talented than others. And accepting that idea, they have to be willing to accept that some teachers are smarter, more insightful and talented than others, and AP kids need AP teachers. And then, they have to be willing to spend the money to create classes for those gifted and talented kids.
Do you see the issues, gentle readers? We have absolutely no problem with accepting the reality that some people are far more athletically capable than others, and we don’t waste a moment worrying about the feelings of the kids who will never play on the varsity football team. But suggest some kids are smarter and more talented than others, and all hell breaks loose!
I’ve seen the emotional arguments of parents and kids who complain the mere existence of AP classes is prejudicial and makes the kids not in those classes feel inferior. It was Elanor Roosevelt who wisely said:
No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.
Yet, if we accept the mere presence of certain ideas, words, or beliefs can legitimately make people feel “unsafe,” even do actual violence, what chance does reality have?
It’s not just students and parents. Some teachers not chosen to teach AP classes experience—oh what’s the word—jealousy? Yes. That’s the very one. Some principals, the people whose job description is to see to the welfare and academic development of every student, also display a bizarre sort of jealously toward AP teachers and even AP students, who often display an alarming propensity to challenge authority, which such principals often find difficult. Defending the indefensible is like that.
Another, more stealthy, problem is the grotesque fad of “student-centered instruction.” I’ve often written about this disastrous idea that students are innately brilliant, and teachers must not teach, but merely “facilitate” the student’s self-directed learning. Kids are supposed to grade teachers and tell them what they want to learn next and how they intend to learn it. AP teachers are notoriously bad at that, because they are smart and understand the entire premise is lunacy. They know facilitated kids are aimless kids that accomplish nothing. AP kids are also bad at it, because “student-centered instruction” revolves around group work, no actual grading, and no responsibility. AP kids love to produce excellent work, succeed and be recognized for it. They know group work is mediocre at best, or they end up doing all the work and getting only a portion of the credit. See the problem?
Even so, AP classes have generally survived, even done a great deal of good, for if the smartest and most talented among us don’t get the educational opportunities they need, from where will come our next generations of scientists, engineers, doctors, actors, writers, composers and teachers?
The truth is—gasp!—some people are smarter and more talented than others, and thank God for it. That’s just the nature of human variability—diversity, if you will. Where would we be without them?
During my quarter century career, I taught AP/G/T classes and enjoyed the kids very much. Ideally, they really are the best and brightest in a school. They are self-motivated, hard working, greatly value education, and hunger to learn. Actual AP kids challenge good teachers, which is why only the right people should teach them. Teachers not absolutely confident in their knowledge, ability, and insight into AP kids can easily be overwhelmed. AP kids learn more, faster, and in much greater depth than “normal” classes, because they need that stimulation and pressure. They do much more reading, much more writing, more assignments, and must do them on a higher level. That pressure, the extra workload, can be difficult for all but the most capable and dedicated teachers.
During my early days of teaching AP kids, I had a pretty much ideal situation. Kids were allowed into AP classes only with the recommendation of their previous year’s teachers and concurrence of the AP subject matter teacher. A student who was AP material in English may not be so gifted in math. Musical talent usually didn’t transfer to painting or sculpture. And they were on a sort of informal probation. If it became obvious, before the first grades were sent out to parents, they were in over their heads, they would be moved to a “normal” class. This was as it should have been, as it must be, because no one does a student struggling merely to avoid failure a favor by keeping them in a class they can’t handle.
This usually wasn’t a problem. Such kids were usually in the wrong classes because they wanted to be with a friend, or were pursuing a love interest. Less often, they really wanted to try an AP class, or really liked a teacher and wanted to learn from them. Failing badly and so quickly, they were usually relieved to transfer—not being able to keep up in a genuine AP class doesn’t mean dumb–and AP teachers certainly didn’t denigrate them in making the move.
Over the years, anti-intellectual pressure and petty jealousies began to warp the system. First, kids were simply placed in AP classes if they wanted to be in them with no concern for their grades, and no input from their teachers. This was done under the premise all kids should have the chance to excel. OK, but not all kids have the ability, dedication, and will to excel. Try that premise on the football coach sometime and see how that turns out: “Coach, Bobby here is 5’2” and weighs 105 pounds, but he dreams of being a defensive lineman. He needs that chance to excel. Try not to get him killed, and don’t worry about winning from now on.” For a few years, AP teachers were still allowed to remove unfit kids from classes, but it became harder and harder.
Eventually, and this is the situation in schools that have not entirely abolished AP and G/T classes, any kid could take any AP class, and it was essentially impossible to remove them. They’d disrupt the kids that wanted to learn, or they’d just quietly do their own thing—nothing academic–fail miserably, and earn no credit for a semester or year. But hey, everybody had the chance to be in AP classes! Dedicated teachers had to essentially write two classes for the same period, and often spent more time on futile disciplinary efforts than teaching.
Finally, we arrive at the present, where race is infecting everything and everyone, as WBGH in Boston reports:
A selective program for high-performing fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Boston has suspended enrollment due to the pandemic and concerns about equity in the program, GBH News has learned.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius recommended the one-year hiatus for the program, known as Advanced Work Classes, saying the district would not proceed with the program for new students next year.
‘There’s been a lot of inequities that have been brought to the light in the pandemic that we have to address,’ Cassellius told GBH News. “There’s a lot of work we have to do in the district to be antiracist and have policies where all of our students have a fair shot at an equitable and excellent education.”
New students will be admitted in the fourth grade by standards to be determined at the school level, according to a BPS spokesman.
There will be no new students admitted in the fifth or sixth grades, the spokesman said, but those already in advanced work will be allowed to continue.
A district analysis of the program found that more than 70 percent of students enrolled in the program were white and Asian, even though nearly 80 percent of all Boston public school students are Hispanic and Black.
Cassellius comes from Minneapolis/St. Paul, a pair of cities national leaders in destroying educational opportunities for kids through total immersion in woke. In my middling sized Texas high school, most kids were white, a small but significant portion Hispanic, as one might expect in Texas, a smaller portion Asian, and the smallest portion, Black. It wasn’t a matter of racism, Texas has a great many school districts, and they zealously guard their district boundaries. That was just the ways things worked out in our district. Virtually all Asian kids were in AP classes and none were removed. Some Hispanic kids were in the classes, and some Black kids. Most did well, though some had to be moved to less demanding classes, until that was no longer possible.
School Committee member Lorna Rivera said at a January meeting that she was disturbed by the findings, noting that nearly 60 percent of fourth graders in the program at the Ohrenberger school in West Roxbury are white even though most third graders enrolled at the school are Black and Hispanic.
‘This is just not acceptable’ Rivera said at a recent school committee meeting. ‘I’ve never heard these statistics before, and I’m very very disturbed by them.’
The program was open to all students in the Boston Public Schools who took a test known as Terra Nova in the third grade and received a high score. Those students were placed in a lottery conducted by the central administration office, and lottery winners received letters inviting them to apply to the program. Last fall, 453 students received invitations, 143 students applied and 116 enrolled this year, officials said.
What’s happening is what happened during the age of Obama, and is baaaaaack—with a vengeance–with the advent of the Biden Administration: statistical disparity. If the student population of a school is 40% black, then only 40% or fewer of black students may be disciplined for misbehavior or crimes. As with Rivera, it’s easy—and oh so woke—to be shocked by statistics, but it takes actual intellectual curiosity and effort to learn how those statistics were derived and what they actually mean. If more than 40% are disciplined, it’s prima facie proof of racism, and the actual behavior of the kids involved doesn’t matter. If only 20% of kids in AP classes are Black, and most are failing, racism, and daring to suggest they might be in some way liable for their low numbers and failure is absolute proof of racism and white supremacy.
This does not work for all races. If 25% are Asian, there is absolutely no problem with having far fewer than 25% Asian participation in AP classes. This is not racism, but anti-racism or equity, or diversity or whatever.
The solution, of course, is not to punish misbehaving, criminal students, but to stop punishing them altogether, which has the beneficial effect of dramatically reducing the discipline and crime statistics in schools. It turns the schools into ungovernable hellholes, but at least they’re not racist, except they are, because racism can never be eradicated from a systemically racist society.
And now, in our enlightenment, the solution to not enough kids of the right colors in AP classes, and kids of the wrong colors failing is to end AP classes, which has the beneficial effect of eliminating the embarrassing statistics of how few kids of the right colors are taking or succeeding in those classes. Of course, many of them can’t read, write, or do math—which as we all know now is racist—but at least the statistics are right, er, left. It’s that damned, systemically racist insistence on finding the correct answer, when evolved people know there is no such thing, only lived experiences, alternate ways of knowing, and everyone’s individual, personal truth, which pretty much defenestrates AP classes.
What’s going on? Are those Boston elementary schools racist? Is every teacher in those schools a card-carrying member of the KKK or a Trump Supporter, which is the same thing? What’s happening is cultural and political suicide.
Some cultures value education, have tightly knit families where children are expected to revere their parents and elders, please them, and accomplish great things, and are driven to succeed individually and collectively. Other cultures benefit from few or none of these characteristics. This is the case with many, perhaps even most, black Americans, particularly in Democrat-ruled states, cities and school systems. Paying attention, doing well in school, reading, writing coherently, showing responsibility by being on time, getting in assignments, and demonstrating talent at anything other than very narrow means of acceptable, “authentic” black art forms is not only punished verbally and emotionally, but may be deadly.
But this is not racial, because black immigrants from some African nations do exceptionally well in every measure of success, as do Asians, and Indians (from India). How is it they do so well. Are racists so discriminating? Not at all; it’s a matter of culture.
Politics is involved when schools are forced to accept Critical Race Theory, and to pretend they are systemically racist. This causes all manner of horrors as AP classes disappear, discipline is non-existent, and the most violent, criminal inmates run the asylum.
Robert Heinlein wrote:
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as ‘bad luck.’
It is the same kind of back luck that holds black and Hispanic kids are too stupid to achieve on the same level as whites and Asians, so AP classes have to be dumbed down, or eliminated entirely. It is the same kind of bad luck that brands everyone racist, which does not produce racism, but causes them to give up in disgust. It is this kind of bad luck that is reflected in the classic Japanese aphorism:
The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.
When we eliminate opportunities to learn rather than address the individual and cultural barriers that prevent taking advantage of those opportunities, we hammer down those nails—through our own feet. Bad luck indeed.