There is always a class. A class that got designated as the ones who would only go so far in life because of their inability to sit still for six hours a day in cinderblock rooms . This is the class that is full of the kids who got letters assigned to them way before they should’ve. ADD, ADHD, hyperactive, dyslexic, and a host of others. In every school, in every grade there is always a class.
Lots of times we pretend we haven’t set these classes aside because we don’t have a name for them. They are the regular class, the normal class. Not so terrible sounding. But they aren’t the honors class, the college-prep class, or the advanced class. Being the regular class doesn’t sound so bad until it is put in comparison to the other options and you realize it is the bottom rung on a twisted ladder. Those kids in the class learn fast what their assignment means.
We separate them. The kids who excel, who are well behaved and who push for good grades get filtered one way. The kids who struggle more, have more attitude issues, or questionable home lives tend to wind up going another. You end up with an honors class and the “other” class. The class that teachers attempt to avoid and even the kids know is doomed.
One Goes Up. One Goes Down
In sports coaches always say you play to the level of your opponent. Facing a good team and surrounded by elite athletes can bring an entire game to the top tier of performance. At schools we use the opposite approach. Rather than put kids who struggle in with kids who have an easier time to raise the overall level, we separate them, often before they get the chance to prove if they could muster that bit of effort to produce higher grades. Then it all becomes a circle. One goes up. And one goes down.
The kids see the separation and they know that they have been picked out, set aside and singled out as one of the ones who cannot make it at the standards of the others. Year after year they get placed into classes where disruption and bad grades are the norm not the exception. They see the teachers as having given up on them before they have so much as left the starting line. Their fate has been decided. They are part of the stupid class. That label and all it holds become internalized on them. They accept that they are stupid and have no business going to college or pursuing things after high school. They are told by the system itself that they cannot even compete inside the boundaries of their hometown.
The grades get worse. The attitudes get worse. The discipline gets worse. And why wouldn’t it. They have no purpose for school other than to finish it because someone requires it of them. There is no benefit to them. There is no expectation for the future. Why should they try? They have already been labeled and everyone from the students to the principal excepts that label so it must be right. Why bother trying to change it?
Creations of Our Own
We create the kids who hate school by teaching them that they have already failed it. We create entire classes of children who believe they have nothing worth giving to the world. We create the honors and the others. Then we act surprised when those kids refer to themselves by the labels we gave them. A stupid kid, a gifted student, a waste of potential, a slow learner, not meant for college.
All because somewhere along the line we decided to label kids based on how well they answered our questions and think that was all that mattered.