Benign neglect

To the Editor:

One would like to think that elementary public education took seriously its responsibility to fairly and equitably educate, to the best of its ability, all students. That is not an easy task considering the enormous variability possible between any two students of the same chronological age, to say nothing of the diversity of ability among the students of a single class.

My own experience and observation in elementary schools leads me to believe that classroom teachers work extraordinarily hard to accomplish the above goal. In my local elementary school, Tremont, and all over AOS 91, I have seen classroom teachers teaching students, not grades.

They put incredible effort into helping each student in their class move from what is known to what needs knowing – and still manage to find six minutes for lunch.

So, I was fortunate enough to be asked to volunteer in a class of very young students, originally to work with a single student, who by any reasonable measure would be classified as a high achieving math student. His teacher, as is true of all teachers I believe, recognized that this 6-year-old needed accelerating. He needed more challenge, something or someone to help him spread his wings. I felt lucky to be asked to help.

His teacher worked tirelessly, as do the vast majority of elementary teachers.

But, I realized that my spring job was about to start in a few weeks and I could therefore not be a volunteer anymore. So I started a campaign to try to convince the school committee that the school needed to hire an ed tech for the job of working exclusively with high achieving students across the nine grades.

The needs of high ability students deserve attention, as is the case with all students. But, the literature makes it obvious that across America this attention is generally absent. Benign neglect is what one scholar called it.

My campaign went nowhere because Superintendent Marc Gousse made it clear to me that, in effect there is no problem with the needs of high-flying students. His exact words in an email were: “From our vantage point, the Tremont school budget, present and proposed, adequately provides adequate resources in meeting the needs of all learners, including high achieving students.”

This is wrong on many fronts. The research suggests that seldom are the true needs of an advanced learner met. And clearly that is true in each elementary school in AOS 91.

So, one has to wonder. Maybe Gousse is correct that the elementary school budget(s) already provide adequate resources for all the dozens of high-achieving elementary students among AOS 91 schools.

But as I see it, the parents of high-achieving students have two choices – go along with the tradition of benign neglect. They need to decide that their child’s needs are not as important as the needs of other children.

They need to realize that some teachers will try to differentiate the curriculum, and that may help. But don’t worry if your child may be bored and dislike school. Don’t complain, because other taxpayers might accuse you of elitism for wanting exactly what they want and deserve – equal treatment.

The other choice is to demand evidence from Gousse as to where and what are these adequate resources. Parents need to hold accountable the individuals that are making the claim that your kids are being provided an appropriate education. We need to confront benign neglect.

Terry Stanley


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