Since the advent of magnet schools 30-some-odd years ago, school systems have been actively segregating students based on academic ability. In essence, the brightest and best of students were pulled out of “regular” schools and sent to academically elite situations where their advancement would flourish even more in scholastic idyll. However, it seems as if the fate of those students who remained in the mainstream may not have been adequately preconsidered.
Without the assistance or influence of their more academically adept comrades, the mainstreamers, left to themselves, were still expected to perform at acceptable rates and standards. The question that springs from this is, “how?” While intense instruction certainly carries its own merits, the incalculable profit of their sponsorship among the “magnet class” is dealt a staggering and self-evident blow. Unwittingly then, we have all contributed to the decimation of the educational process.
Segregation and sequestration of academic ability has proved harmful to education in similar fashion to those in housing, employment opportunities, voting rights and access to affordable health care. Consequently, the “brain drain” has left us with swaths — indeed whole provinces — of academically impoverished schools and school districts.
Moreover, an unfortunate and disheartening product of academic segregation has been the systemic derision of teachers and administrators who struggle mightily in their efforts to bring those students left behind in the malaise up to par. Capable, dedicated, hardworking instructors who find themselves tasked with impossible standards and thankless communities are excoriated for their inability to perform miracles.
Where does this end? I’m not sure. With the furious focus on standardized test scores (as opposed to actual instruction and learning), and the near-hysterical popular worship accorded to magnetic and talented-and-gifted programs, there is scant hope the situation faces any foreseeable remedy. The re-merging of academic programs that reflect our wide and diverse communities seems like a pipe dream. However, as we seek true solutions to the problem of the educational underclass, let us at least realize our own contributions to such an unwieldy phenomenon.
Lloyd C. Norwood Jr.
consumer finance professional