Interchangeable Students

USA Today contributor Patrick Welsh wrote recently on the plight of the “average student.” Welsh claims that these students, who fall between “gifted and talented” and “learning disabled,” are often ignored by schools because those schools can gain more prestige by dealing with students at the extremes. Welch criticizes this tracking system, and harkens back to the 1970s when some schools had up to five tracks for students. The problem with those systems, and Welsh acknowledges this, is that they became forms of de facto segregation.

Welsh’s solution is for the parents of “average” students to “band together to bring pressure” to their schools to create “a middle track for average students” with a name that will please those parents who have a hard time calling their children average.

Welsh makes some damaging assumptions in this article. First, he assumes that students are victims of institutional tracking. Second, he assumes that there is a class of students who could be labeled as “average.” Lastly, he implies a plot on the part of administrators and teachers to improve their schools’ reputations as quickly as possible, student well-being be damned.

Students may be victims of institutional tracking, but this does not account for the students’ ability to learn and improve their condition. If they find themselves on one track, it is not their destiny to stay there. Their own initiative to learn should propel them off of that track and on to something — if not better, then different.

As for there being a class of students called “average,” Welsh needs to open his eyes. His definition of which students are “average” is just as limiting as the tracking system he decries. Labeling students as “average” does nothing to liberate them from tracking or from being as pigeon-holed as the “gifted” or “remedial” students who supposedly surround them.

Finally, what sort of selfishness does Welsh assume is in place in academia? The way he writes this article makes it sound like teachers are out for their skin and CVs only, caring nothing for the students they teach. As an English teacher at T.C. Williams HS, Welsh should know better. If he thinks this is the dominant mood in the academy, then he needs to get out of Virginia and get a sense of perspective.

These kind of theories irk me. Welsh tells us that the students are victims of the teachers’ selfishness; but rather than propose that the students take their own education into their hands, he falls back on the parents who should rescue their helpless kids from the harsh hands of the school administrators.

Students must be held accountable for their own educations. If they are not, then we are faced with a reality I don’t want to look at, one in which school is not a privilege but a mechanically followed stage of life. Students need to realize that a formal education is an opportunity, not a rite of passage into adulthood. And it must be students who see this and take up the power to change their own lives. Parents cannot rescue them, should not rescue them, not if we want to instill values of hard work and self-sufficience into students today.

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