‘No Child Left Behind.’ ‘Every Student Succeeds.’
Superficial changes to education will never resolve the central problem: intellectual abandonment is designed into the deepest fabric of our schools.
No Child Left Behind
In 2001 the US government implemented the ‘No Child Left Behind’ initiative, to great bi-partisan acclaim. Congress repealed the law in 2005 and replaced it with the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act.’
Both are tributes to the sad idea that if you just give a thing the right name, everything will work itself out.
There have been many critics of both laws, but let me add a deeper question: How are we to insure that no child is left behind, and that every child succeeds, with a system built entirely upon the idea that half of them are not good enough?
Because that’s exactly what ‘below average’ means; inherent in our system is the idea that half the kids are below average, that they are not good enough. The statistical average, and the value of being above or below that average, is the central concept in how we grade students, teachers, schools, districts, and states.
The Grading Curve
The central concept is the grading curve: 10% A’s, 20% B’s, 40% C’s, 20% D’s, and 10% F’s. Granted, a ‘C’ on the curve means we will accept 20% of the class who is below average. But first, that still leaves 30% of students with unacceptable grades. Second, if you give kids enough tests in enough classes, those below average will shuffle around, and sooner or later many more of will also end up with D’s and F’s. A few D’s and F’s, and you don’t graduate.
It’s intellectual abandonment.
Granted, in most schools the curve was replaced by the grading scale, but that’s just window dressing, a bureaucratic dodge. The fundamental idea hasn’t changed.
This is not some theoretical concern: 25% of the high school freshmen in the United States dropped out of education before graduating with the 2015 class. The number may be much higher; Bill Gates says it’s 30%, and he notes in his TED talk that we’ve hidden the true numbers for years.
The problem is inherent in the system. Rather than argue that point, let me simply offer a simple question: If all of our students, in all of our schools, suddenly learned all of the information and passed all of the tests, would we celebrate?
Or would we decide that something is wrong, and simply raise the bar again?
Do we have anything in our mental toolkit that envisions a system where every child passes every course?
We do not. We have no paradigm of education that will permit us to even consider a system where no child is left behind, and that every student succeeds.
The idea that some will fail, some must fail, is one of the legacies of our medieval educational mindset. Our schools were born a millennium ago, a time when much of humanity was disposable. After all that time, even today we are only interested in making sure that those at the top – i.e. ours, and those like us – succeed. The rest are intellectually abandoned on the roadside.
A, B, C, D… F
It’s right there in the grading scale: A, B, C, D… F. What happened to ‘E’? If grading is supposed to be an impartial, scientific scale, it’s bad enough that we relegate some children to the lowest tier. Why do we also need to label them, and blame them as they fall short?
Because that’s what the ‘F’ does, it makes sure they know that they are failures. Not us; them. The grade of ‘F’ pours salt into the very same wounds that we inflicted upon them by following a toxic educational system. Look at my earlier post about intellectual Darwinism to see how scholars abuse science to blame children, and absolve schools. Then consider the Bill Gates comment above; if our real concern is making sure very child succeeds, why do we hide how bad things are? The obvious explanation is so that we can pretend it is not intellectual abandonment.
It’s so that we can escape accountability.
Blame the Victim
We have inherited a system which not only mandates that some children be thrown away, but one which also insures that they are blamed for being losers. Better them than us, eh?
How can we accept a system which mandates that so many of our children must be failures?
Or any of our children at all?