Debate Magazine

Lowering the Bar

By Stevemiranda

A friend said to me yesterday, “I hear some people, some leaders, talk about how not every kid needs to go to college. When you hear someone say that, especially if they themselves went to college, be very suspicious. Because usually what they’re talking about is a certain segment of the population doesn’t need to go to college.”

That certain segment of the population, he suspects, is low-income kids of color. The result, he says, is lowered expectations.

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I believe that not all kids need to go to college, but I’m not referring to any particular group of students. My experience has shown me that a lot of people—maybe even most people—aren’t all that interested in reading Shakespeare, deconstructing the Federalist papers, or doing physics experiments.

Personally, I love academic learning, which is one of the reasons I became a teacher. But that may be part of the problem. The people who aren’t into academic learning rarely engage in lengthy dialogues about school—they’re too busy trying to forget that painful part of their childhood. So conversations about how to fix our education system, for the most part, do not include a really important set of voices.

Because school policy is established by people who enjoy and value academic learning, the definition persists  that school is a place solely for academic learning. For kids who aren’t interested, teachers have no choice but to lower the bar. And for kids who really aren’t interested, and have had their self-esteem so damaged by school over the years that they basically shut down when they arrive on campus, we lower the bar even further.

So in three different classes, you’ll have one in which kids are reading The Portrait of Dorian Gray at home and having lively discussions in class; one in which kids are reading (the SparkNotes to) The Great Gatsby at home and doing worksheets in class; and one in which kids are having their teacher read aloud a Richard Wright short story while they follow along.

Classroom teachers have no choice but to lower the bar, because they’re forced to engage kids in activities that don’t match their unique interests or their skill set.

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I’m not writing this to justify lowering the bar for some students. I’m writing this as a condemnation of a system that doesn’t give teachers the opportunity to establish a high bar for kids in their personal areas of strength and interest.

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