2008-01-17 - 12:38 p.m.
I went to my book group last night. I think it was exhaustion, but we got into a long and rather, um, pointed, discussion about whether there was anything to be said for tracking English classes in high schools.
I can see all the reasons not to -- the danger of segregating kids based on class and race rather than ability; the danger of making mistakes, and permanently shutting kids out from more challenging work (because people rarely move up, I think) -- but I think by not tracking, at a certain point, you can end up with a class that works for no one -- too easy for some, too hard for other, boring for all. Unless you've got a great teacher. A great teacher can probably do it, but there aren't that many of those. And you also lose the chance to have a class where lots of content is covered. You can't read 10 novels a year in an untracked class. You can't do a real survey of American lit. You may decide that's worth losing in the interest of having something else go on (some social thing), but you have to see that that's what you're losing. Just like when you do offer that survey of American lit, you have to see that you're losing the chance to have a mixed-ability classroom. There are trade-offs. You can't have everything.
I think it's easier in history, because in history people don't really have to read the book. Lectures will do it.
Anyway, my friend S refused to concede that I was right. ha! She's a much more socially committed person than I am. She wanted to argue that just because people don't read books doesn't mean they're not smart, and also that some kids have to work after school and don't have time to read. That's all true, and it's also true that M has learned many things by being in mixed ability English classes and many of those things are valuable, and she also reads all the time outside of class. I'm glad she's learning all those things, but I'm sad that her english class is a sea of boredom, and that she can't talk about the stuff she's reading outside of class in a classroom, and I'm sad she's not being exposed to other stuff that she'd love, and that she'd love to talk about.
I'm not saying that there shouldn't be mixed ability classes. I'm just saying that by making those classes the English classes, you're giving something up. Strangely, no one seems to think it should be math classes that should be mixed ability. Why not just have a big mixed math class. The kids who are really good at math can do calculus at home, and they can all work on multiplication together in the challenging mixed classroom. Or maybe the teacher can send the 7 kids who are good at math to a corner, where they can talk about math analysis together while the rest of the class struggles with concepts of division. Or they can teach something that's too hard for the slow kids, and to slow for the fast kids, and pleasing to nobody. Or the really good teachers can figure out some way of not boring all of them.
Anyway. S refused to concede, which is why I have to bore the hell out of all of you here.
design by simplify.