The word that most aptly describes the momentum behind education reform going into 2007 is disenfranchised. This can be applied to students in grades P all the way to 16. It can also be applied to adults who want to go back to school, who never completed school, or who are learning English as a second language. It can be used to describe those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. This word can be mixed and matched with pretty much any type of person that is deserving of more opportunity; and who isn’t?
The word disenfranchised will inevitably be used to call for more education funding, to fight for more equitable education and to appeal for universal education. Disenfranchised is the sort of descriptor that can be mixed and matched by any education reformer for any type of reform because it appeals to the conscience; it begs the decent person to look out for those amongst us who might need a little action on their behalf.
But be forewarned: Those whose heartstrings are pushed and pulled in every direction must discern the various offerings and work through the rhetoric so the disenfranchised are truly helped. Like it or not, sometimes solutions can become part of the problem.
The effort behind universal preschool stems from the notion some children are better prepared for kindergarten than others. Underprivileged children are not accumulating as much practice playing with the English language and are not exposed to the types of concrete experiences that lay the foundation for learning abstract mathematical concepts.
I’ve discovered “disenfranchised” children are lacking at a much more basic level. Some are not used to interactions where they are expected to listen, and conversely, they don’t expect others to hear them. Accustomed to this deficit, and having their needs met by Power Rangers and X-Men, they tune out people and events and succumb to the symptoms of having insufficient relationships with caring responsible adults. Their curiosity about the world is being stunted and they lack civility.
This type of child most definitely benefits from a preschool that offers opportunities for exploration and language development. But this child profits more from the consistency offered from caring adults who teach them social skills and provide them with the most basic needs.
Conversely, children growing up in homes rich in one-on-one interaction with one or two parents with the time and resources to devote to raising a child will not benefit more from the experience of preschool where a teacher’s time is divided between 18 needy children. Children, whose needs can be met at home, gain much more from tumbling and swimming at the local park than if placed in universal preschool.
Children are disenfranchised when expectations are lowered for their potential. Whether or not a child is labeled ADD, EL, LD, Gifted, or anything else, really doesn’t matter if in any given situation the child isn’t pushed to his or her maximum ability. When a label is used as an excuse for not meeting needs, the solution has become the problem. If mainstreaming prevents some students from optimum academic gains, the solution has become the problem.
The bottom line is that while everyone is not equal, everyone should be given equal opportunity. This might not always look the same in every given situation. In sports, one child might be learning to sink or swim while another is practicing butterfly. While the two students would not be expected to receive the same treatment, this isn’t the case in academics. There must be some serious rethinking in our elementary and middle schools. In these circumstances, it must be, “one “hellava reality check” to suddenly find oneself competing and placed in leveled classes upon reaching high school in this day and age. How about when it comes to looking for a job?
At one time, everything important could be learned by the end of eighth grade. Now, colleges find many students cannot read or write at an eighth grade level. How is it that some students are accepted into college when they haven’t met the requirements of the preceding grades? Community colleges are expected to provide remedial instruction to students who are not prepared for college level courses yet award more and more course credits to record numbers of students testing out of classes because of prior AP or IB programs. How can that be? Is it because everyone is not equal but everyone should be given equal opportunity?
Smaller classes and a smaller school might make all the difference in the world, or not. This is not a universal rule. Some students thrive among large numbers and unimaginable opportunities. This is why there should be choice in education. One universal rule does not always benefit everyone. Beware of equalizing instead of equal opportunity. This has the effect of disenfranchising some groups while ensuring rule of the majority or minority.
Disenfranchised is a very powerful word. It can be used to further equalize everyone or to provide everyone with equal opportunity. Be careful when deciding which educational reforms to get behind in 2007.
President of The Basics Project, (www.Basicsproject.org) a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues.