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Monday, December 23, 2013

Do Gifted Programs Improve Learning? (wow! really dumb question)

This is the actual title of an actual article published in the The Atlantic. I am saying this in this way because the question itself is absurd. What does it mean to “improve learning?” How can you improve learning? Does learning need improvement? I am upset by this question because in today’s world this almost seems like a meaningful idea.

Here is the link to the article:

What the writer means to ask, of course, is if gifted and talented programs improve test scores. This too is a silly question because you need good test scores to get into them in the first place. The right question is whether gifted programs make school any more interesting or relevant. My grandson Milo is in one at P.S. 10 in Brooklyn. When I ask him how school is, he always answers “boring.”

I was in one myself, although they didn’t call it that in my day. They called them the one classes. If you were in 6-1 in P.S. 247 you were in the smart class. If you were in 6-6 you were in the dumb class. (Also, given that this was Bensonhurst, this also meant that your parents were likely in the Mafia and you had been thrown out of Catholic School.)

If you asked me about school, I would have told you it was boring.

At the moment I am trying to learn how to improve my softball swing. I have a mentor I ask to look at what I am doing and occasionally he provides tips. He told me I was holding the bat wrong the other day. All these years of softball and no one had ever mentioned this to me. Now I am hitting better. I have improved my hitting not my learning.

We need to recognize that school should be about improving kid’s life -- about encouraging him to think new thoughts -- about giving him new abilities -- or about coming up with new ambitions. But, in this test crazed world we have created, we want to improve learning, which is not only meaningless, but insane.

In other news, the article says that gifted programs improve nothing. Not true. What they improve is a kid’s safety. What we have always meant by a “good school” is a safe school. I would have been beaten up regularly had I been in the 6-6 class. And that is why I am happy that Milo is in the gifted class, not because his learning will be improved.


Tim McClung said...

Thomas Pynchon wrote, "as long as they keep asking the wrong questions, the answers really don't matter"

This is a perfect example.

Suzanne Kiggins said...

My favorite test question from a practice test for 4 year olds: Imagine you are having steak for dinner. Which of the following would you not bring to table? (Spoon, napkin, steak knife, fork). All the kids said steak knife, because they're not allowed to carry sharp things. But if they were gifted they would have said spoons. What a waste of time and money by NYC public schools.

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