Go to any baby ward. Look at all the babies. You are looking at a room full of potential geniuses. Given the opportunity almost every one of those newborns can be an ‘A’ student. Almost everyone can be successful in life, but most likely only a few of them will be “A’ students and most of them will not be anywhere close to as successful as they can be.
You did catch my key phrase there: ‘Given the opportunity.’
Most children are saddled with two problems the first day of school. First, they are not ready for school. Generally children are expected to begin school the same day all the other children their age in their school district begin school. Their maturity is not the same age, though. Some were ready months before, some will be ready very soon, and others will not be ready for as much as a year of more. I wasn’t really ready for school until I started third grade. That’s when I learned how to read. Until then I had no idea what was going on.
Second they will not all be at the same grade level. Some of them will know how to read already. Many will know how to count. Some will know their ABCs and how to tell time. Some will have travelled extensively; others will have never been very far out of their own neighborhood. Some will have a number of friends and be socially receptive. Others won’t know how to relate to their classmates.
Most of those children who were ready for school the first day as well as most of those who were already educationally and socially adept will finish the school year ahead of their classmates and ready for second grade. Some will stumble into second grade but will be able to stay with the material being offered, but many will be falling behind and will continue falling behind unless something fortunate happens to them. I was fortunate to have concerned parents and an especially good third grade teacher. By the end of third grade I had joined the children who were stumbling into fourth grade, but I was in a position where I could catch up and I did.
When I was student teaching, one of my students could barely read. Whenever anyone talked with him, it was obvious he was very bright. In fact he had once tested as highly intelligent. His real problem was that everyone in his family worked in one of the local factories. That’s all he really knew. When he got to third grade and couldn’t read, even if there was a teacher who wanted to take the time to teach him how to read, she was getting little or no support from the boy’s family. It’s likely none of them knew how to read very well either.
Children are born learning. Perhaps if that boy had been able to start school when he was ready, even if it wasn’t until he was nine or ten, he might have had enough success to be able to buck that innate resistance provided by his family.
Perhaps if our educational system did not demand that every child be at the same place educationally as every other child in the same grade, that boy and the many, many children like him would have a chance to succeed. Our school systems need to be adapted to the needs of the child, not the needs of the educational system.
Our educational system was designed to create factory workers. It was designed to meet the needs of the industrial age and its factories. It is still that way, even though the needs are different. We need people oriented toward success, not an assembly line. We need students who can create and solve problems, not students who can be cogs in the wheel. In short our educational system needs to be adapted so every student can succeed according to his or her current ability, not according to the perceived ability of the grade level as a whole.