What’s Wrong With Elitism?

Undoubtedly many of you have recently read the Time cover story asking if America is failing its geniuses. And that’s about as provocative as the article gets.

The author goes to great lengths to avoid portraying genius students (those who are 3 deviations above the norm or have an IQ of about 145) as oddities, but by doing so they are portrayed as oddities. He does note that students who are 3 deviations below the norm are about the same percentage of the general population as those who are above. However, there is absolutely no indication that these students who fall below the norm are abnormal. Is there something wrong with this concept?

I have argued all along that the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) bill rammed through by Bush Jr. has done one of the biggest disservices to American education in decades. There are two fallacies in this thinking that have rankled ever since the bill was ill-constructed. First, it is assumed that all students can perform at the same level and all we have to do is throw more money at the lowest achieving students to bring them up to the level of our average student. In effect, we are not only disregarding the needs of the “average” student, but we are totally ignoring the needs of the brightest of our students.

At the risk of sounding elitist, what is wrong with encouraging the brightest of our bright to be all they can be? What a lot of people fail to realize is there are as large a percentage of brilliant students dropping out as there are students who are struggling just to keep up. Why? They are bored. Monumentally bored.

Since the NCLB bill was passed, only about 1/10 of what was previously allocated for teaching the gifted and talented is now available. Group learning does not work with these students. Many well-meaning teachers pair a gifted student with a struggling student. The theory is that both will gain in the trade-off. Many parents have requested that their students be moved ahead a grade or two and denied. The working theory for this denial is that gifted students need to learn to socialize with children their own age. This is another fallacy that needs to be dropped immediately.

Genius-level students do not socialize well with their peers. They process information at a speed that finds peers boring. In the earliest grades they resent having to work (do the work) of students who do not have their acuity.

Let me put this in perspective. Parents proudly sit and listen as their 1st graders start reading their first sentences. This is a wonderful achievement. But, let’s carry this analogy further. Suppose you could only read at that word-by-word rate for the entire year. Now use your imagination to think about the students you are working with. Your little genius is only 6 years old, but s/he already knows s/he is far more advanced than the average student and wonders why this other student cannot read like s/he does. Frustration and boredom set in quickly. Our small genius does not socialize with average students because s/he simply does not process information in the same way the average student does.

So, what’s the solution? In Nevada a private school for brilliant students has been set up and chartered by the State. However, it is being criticized for elitism. There is nothing wrong with this kind of elitism. Students who are our brightest and best have been suffering years of neglect. Many teachers don’t know what to do with them. Schools cut out programs that cater to their needs in favor of the low achieving students. We are losing them at an unconscionable rate due to boredom. Why should they be forced to go to kindergarten to learn the alphabet when they are already reading and writing complete sentences? Why they should be forced to do addition and subtraction when they are able to cope with multiplication and division? Why should they be forced to sit through reading drills when they are already asking and answering questions as to theme and plot?

If teaching to a student’s ability is elitism, please, give me more of it. I don’t want to see us lose many more of our brightest students to boredom and inappropriate education.

5 Responses to “What’s Wrong With Elitism?”

  1. andthebrain Says:

    I’m not sure that this only applies to students who are classified as “genius,” but to children of above-average intelligence as well.
    Our educational system largely reflects the belief system of our society. In recent years, there has a push towards homogeneity. In schools, this is clearly evident. “Tracking” has all but been eliminated because it does “damage to a student’s self esteem.” As a result, children of varying abilities are placed together. Teachers often “teach to the middle” because they cannot meet the needs of the high and low ends as well. I find it extremely frightening that we are encouraging everyone to be the same.
    Reminds me of a certain form of government….

  2. Diane Says:

    Could it be the schools are placing their need to look good via standardized test results under their state accountability system above thir duty to provide EVERY child with an education showing adequate observable and measurable growth? Since the gifted may not take as much work to score grade proficient, (some grade prificient before day on of class) are they being viewed as warehoused goods in the classroom?
    I can only hope that parents rise to the occasion and learn how to be strong advocates for their child/other gifted students while policies leave our kids behind. What a foolish nation it is that consciously chooses to abandon its best young minds!

  3. Dr. Barbara Branch Says:

    I don’t think the government decision makers are intentionally denying the brightest students an appropriate education. The problem is that they are uneducated about the academic and social/emotional needs of our brightest students. When information is not available, decision makers make judgments based on their best guess or their own experience. Even educators are often ignorant of the truth about gifted students. The answer is not in changing the system but in educating the system.

  4. lastcrazyhorn Says:

    And then there are those of us who get in trouble for thinking ahead of the teacher/asking questions about what the teacher is alluding to, or leading up to. In one of my classes just this semester, the teacher takes offense if you inadvertently talk about any aspect of what she is GOING to talk about; so much so that she has suggested I bring colored pencils with me to class with which to draw with when I feel like being overly involved.

  5. Desiree Says:

    While I agree promoting children to higher grades should be encouraged much more than it is, I feel like school is a time to know basic princibles and nothing more. If you want to excell go to college.

    Then, too, is the fact everyone is entitled to a free public education. entitled, but not obligated. If “the system” is failing your kid then be their advocate. If 10 learning disabled kids can graduate at the cost of one board or lost genious then so be it.

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