Tracking without honors

I committed an atrocity this weekend. I chewed a piece of gum at the orchestra.

The microscopic movements of my jaw were noted by the Honors student who had bought my tickets at a group discount. She shot withering looks at me throughout the performance. Afterward, she banned me from further cultural events and ridiculed me in front of my peers by labeling my actions as “tactless.”

It was a piece of gum, for goodness’ sake.

Even if the people sitting next to me were disturbed by the gum (they were not), it still does not warrant the words spoken to me.

This, I realized, is the reason I have refrained from participating in these activities in my three years as an Honors student at this university. There are just too many Honors students like the Gum Tyrant.

I’ve been contemplating this phenomenon and it seems that for some, common sense and compassion shrink in direct proportion to the amount of time spent in gifted programs.

In my experience, the segregation of gifted students from others leads to these biases. Gifted education professor Elizabeth Shaunessy said about the problems of diversity in gifted education: “It is true that the majority of students in gifted programs are Caucasian and from middle class backgrounds. One of the focuses in the field is on how we identify (gifted children of different backgrounds.”

But Shaunessy defended exclusive programs, saying gifted education is not about giving certain students a better education, but about serving their needs appropriately.

Jonathan A. Plucker, a researcher at Indiana University, claims that the solution is to abandon the exclusivity of gifted programs.

“The needs of gifted students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are infrequently met by many school-based gifted programs. While gifted education is justifiable and desirable, gifted programs that remove talented students from the regular classroom during the school day may no longer be a viable educational strategy,” he said.

At first, I thought it was a bad idea to get rid of exclusive honors programs. I have flourished from my experience in programs like International Baccalaureate that make an effort to expose students to a range of different cultural ideals.

But why can’t all children be taught the same? Shouldn’t we strive to give everyone a well-rounded education? What kind of message is that sending to the rest of the students, when the “smart” kids are learning different things than them?

In the education system, there is a practice called “tracking.” Basically, from the time you are in elementary school, teachers are looking to sort out the “college bound” from the “going nowhere” kids.

Anne Wheelock, author of Crossing the Tracks: How Untracking Can Save America’s Schools, claims tracking is one of the most harmful practices in public school today.

“The criteria we use to group kids are based on subjective perceptions and fairly narrow views of intelligence. The notion that students’ achievement levels at any given time will predict their achievement in the future becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Linda Kreger Silverman, of the Denver Gifted Development Center, says on her Web site that gifted programs do not create elitist feelings.

“Elitism has nothing to do with giftedness. It is, and always has been, rooted in socio-economic differences, not intellectual differences,” said Silverman.

This statement could be true. Maybe it is just that elitist Honors students come from rich households. But honestly, I can’t name one honors student that came from a poor household. So what does that say about our education system, that only the advantaged are given a chance?

To me, it says the gap between the poor and wealthy will continue to grow. It says that an education system that is the laughingstock of the industrialized world (ranked 18th in the world by UNICEF) is making things worse for itself by only providing a proper education to the economically advantaged. And it says that the leaders of our country will be people like the Gum Tyrant, who have nothing but contempt for their fellow students.

Michelle Crawford is a senior majoring in mass communications.