219. Required to be Equal

Do you remember the game telephone? Here’s how the game is played in the halls of education.

“All kids deserve an education.”
“All kids deserve a chance at a decent education.”
“All kids deserve an equal chance at an education.”
“All kids deserve an equal education.”
“All kids deserve the same education.”
“If all your kids are not coming out of your school equal to one another, your school has failed.”

I hope we all agree on the first three statements. The fourth looks good, like a hand grenade wrapped up in pretty paper. Whether it is reasonable or crazy depends entirely on how you define “equal”. If you mean equal quality, bravo. If you mean that every kid needs to learn calculus and quantum physics, or needs to understand Chaucerian verse in its original language, or needs to know how to play basketball . . . sorry. You’re off on a well-traveled wrong road.

When Thomas Jefferson said “all men are created equal”, he didn’t mean that strangers could come in and drink his wine, or borrow books from his library. He certainly didn’t mean that children lacking math ability should be tortured with equations, or that children who already run, hike, play and explore should be forced to trade that for the tedium of organized, competitive sports.

The fifth telephone response is simply wrong on the face of it, and the sixth is the discredited concept called No Child Left Behind.   (see 48. No Child Left Behind)

*          *          *

If educators had the courage to tell the truth, these are the words which would be carved over the entrance to every school in America:

Children are NOT created equal.

Some children have many gifts, some have few, and none have the same gifts. They are all wonderful, and all different. One size does not fit all.

If a poor black child wants to be a doctor, and has the talent for the job, it would be a crime for his situation to hold him or her back. That is the impetus behind No Child Left Behind, but in education, good ideas get the life crushed out of them during implementation.

Every child deserves to go as far as his/her talent and ambition will allow. But no mother’s love, or teacher’s pity, or governmental decree will make a doctor out of a child who lacks talent or lacks ambition.

Every child who has the talent and ambition, should go to college.

That’s just good sense and nearly everyone would agree. But that statements has a flip side:

Children who lack talent or lack ambition should stay the hell out of college.

Now put that on a bumper sticker and see who salutes.

Somewhere along the line, Americans seem to have changed the reasonable notion that, “Everyone should have the chance to try his or her hand at winning,” to “Everyone should win.” That’s bad philosophy, bad morals, and bad arithmetic.

There are two casualties of this way of thinking – those who don’t make it into college because of overcrowding, and those who go to college because they were told they should, and then find out they don’t fit.

Our high schools should produce graduates who are ready for life. Instead, they focus on college prep. That’s proper for perhaps twenty-five percent of students. The rest are being cheated out of their educational birthright – a high school experience that educates them for the life they will actually live.

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