“The Educational Dark Age” By Elijah W. Shoaf

Does our current education policy work?  Sadly, it is my belief that only you can answer that question.  I only wish to provide you with an insight from my perspective. Take these popular quotes: Dr. Seuss: “Today you are you, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is youer than you.”  Or, perhaps Einstein: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  And even: “Don’t get confused between what people say you are, and who you know you are.” – Oprah.  Each of these gifted people is celebrated in our society for their uniqueness. Yet, the public-school system holds its students to a label; it teaches young students that it doesn’t matter if they are skilled with a brush, or a violin.  It tells them that if they cannot succeed in Chemistry, or Algebra, then they are a failure.  One day that aspiring artist could make millions and show the world a new perspective, but for now, they are assimilated into believing that their worth adds to little more than a few letters on an answer sheet of a standardized test.   How sad…

Of all the groups that are affected by this disparity, there are two groups in particular that stand out.  The first is the Special Needs Students.  There are over 6.5 million of them in the United States.  The tragedy here is that in most states, most do not offer choices to these students or their parents in how they are educated.  Unless, of course, you can afford a private (Free-Market driven) school, you are forever stuck in the public program the government chooses for you.

In the public-school system, all Special Needs Students are grouped into the same class.  In these classes, the administration doesn’t acknowledge the student’s academic ability or interests.  The reason you are placed into this class is because you are flagged as having a “disability” and the school recognizes this by giving students what is known as an Individual Educational Plan, “IEP.”  Even if a student could succeed in Honors Chemistry or Algebra, it wouldn’t matter, just because they have a “disability,” they are not allowed to take these classes.  This is my personal experience in my school which is ranked among the best in the nation.  Just imagine what it must be like in less-fortunate areas.  How is it fair that you can only afford a high quality education for Special Needs Students only if they can pay for it.  The answer is reform for education.  Research has shown that if we provide Special Needs Students with room and flexibility, instead of isolation and confinement, then they will succeed and even surpass their peers in certain subjects, and now we move on to the next group which may surprise you.

Gifted Education!  Are you surprised?  You shouldn’t be!  Look closely and it should all start to come together. Gifted doesn’t mean just gifted in academics.  It can mean gifted in other areas (i.e., arts, music, dance), but schools focus solely on academics.  Gifted Education should not be just for academically high achieving students.  School systems over-identify gifted students. The more gifted students in a school, the better it looks on the school report card.  Busy work is not beneficial to gifted students. It decreases their motivation for learning.  Gifted Education only focuses on academics, and not the emotional needs of the student.

I am a “gifted” student and I count my blessings for that.  However, I no longer take these supposed “gifted” oriented classes.  Why you ask?  Weren’t those classes designed specifically for you?  No, they aren’t, because I have found myself treated in those classes as little more than a workhorse; a student who can just do more work than the average student.  Gifted Education has just become a class about doing more work (e.g., requiring us to do science fair projects, more worksheets, more reports, etc.), because honestly, the Department of Education has no clue how Special Education/Gifted works.  True Gifted Education should encourage students to think critically and teach them ways to problem solve, including areas for which they are not yet strong.  Is this a fantasy?  No, most definitely not.

According to one of my sources, one of the first Gifted trained educators in the state of Georgia with thirty-five plus years in Gifted Education, that was exactly the way it used to be.  She saw the changes that took place, and like most teachers, she could do little to stop it.  When she began teaching in the gifted program, it was based on individualism and catering to each student’s strengths and weaknesses.  But then the Federal Government stepped in (see a theme?) and changed the game.  Soon funding for the programs would shift solely to test scores.  And if schools wanted to keep their funding, they would have to provide test scores of a near perfect caliber for gifted students.  And this was the start of our “Educational Dark Age.”

There is so much more to this issue and changes must be made.  One person cannot stop a boulder, but thirty can.  Please, get involved in your local community and raise your voice for education reform.  Don’t blame the parents or the teachers, because they see the suffering and injustice in their schools.  Washington doesn’t know what is best for your children, only you do.  If your child cannot be satisfied in a Public School, there is not necessarily anything wrong with him/her.  Help them fight for an alternative plan for education, one where you, not Washington, make the calls.

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