The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor

Posted by on March 16, 2009

The genteel unteaching of America’s poor

Not all schooling is equal. In too many schools, too many students suffer an education of drill and memorization but are deprived of high-level thinking activities, of intellectual discussions, of opportunities to synthesize information and respond creatively — elements that form the basis of education for other students in other schools. Too many poor kids encounter expectations that deem them worthy of discipline and “the basics” rather than nurturing high-level thinking. According to Kylene Beers, president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), it is critically important that all students experience a rich, intellectually rigorous curriculum filled with all sorts of writing. “While writing, more than any other intellectual endeavor, sharpens our thinking, in too many schools, especially schools overwhelmed by poverty, writing is not about thinking but about copying; not about creating but about editing; not about persuading or telling or sharing or clarifying but about completing fill-in-the-blank activities or circling verbs in blue and nouns in red or counting the number of sentences in a paragraph to make sure the prerequisite three (or four or five) are there.” According to a new report from NCTE, unless we can reduce the number of schools that turn to scripted programs and highly structured class routines — sometimes almost militaristic environments — we will continue to be left with an education of America’s poor that cannot be seen as anything more than a segregation by intellectual rigor, something every bit as shameful and harmful as segregation by color.

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