GenEd: Dumb Kids

Stop telling kids they’re dumb by not telling kids they’re dumb.

Here it is: Due to NCLB, CCSS, and AYP, SIP visits assessing DOK and SLOs entered into MLP will motivate our PLCs to SLOT, SOAPStone, SIOP, SSR, and IEP for our ACE, SPED, “gen ed”, “at-risk”, and ELs (formerly ELLs) who, with support from PBIS, can then pass the MSTEP (formerly MEAP), WIDA (formerly ELPA), SRI, SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, and DDOJSIOC.

OK, that last one’s from Beverly Hills Cop. But the rest are a real and waking part of a teacher’s daily life.

Educators speak in code (which is “code” for evasive, cowardly, self-important jargon), but we’re only fooling ourselves. No matter what we call it, a “project-based summative assessment” is just a test, a “standards-based assessment rubric” is just a grade, a “use [of] formative assessments to check for student understanding” is just teaching, and “a group of educators that meets regularly, shares expertise, and works collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students” is just another fucking meeting.

And kids are still kids. The jocks and drama queens, boaters and bros, goths and nerds are all still showing up late and semiconscious to first hour, day after day. Roses by any other name still smell as sweet.

Educators speak in code, but we’re only fooling ourselves. No matter what we call it, a “project-based summative assessment” is just a test…

And of course, the teacher’s pets, A-kids, and favorites continue to outperform the skippers, high-ons, and dropouts.

But we don’t call them that anymore. They, too, are now embedded in code.

Instead, our AP, DCMST, and Honors students are exalted to a more rigorous and challenging curriculum, like “rhetorical analysis and synthesis” and “reading complex imaginative literature”, while the others—whom we affectionately refer to as “gen ed” kids—are relegated to slightly more “scaffolded” literacy interventions like Article of the Week, Common Lit units, SSR book talks, and SLOTs for grammar and SOAPStone.

And since I’ve not yet made apparent the cause of my seemingly unprovoked fury, I’ll inform you that although my garrulous literary polish might’ve fooled you, I was a “gen ed” kid. In other words, I was told that I was dumb.

…although my garrulous literary polish might’ve fooled you, I was a “gen ed” kid. In other words, I was told that I was dumb.

I enrolled at Fordson High in the fall of 2001 with a 2.7 middle school GPA. I was then informed that I’d been dropped from Honors classes because, although I had passed, I had performed too poorly in middle school. I was then sent to my “team”.

Dumb as I might’ve been thought to be, I thankfully still had enough brains to infer that this “team” which I’d been assigned to wasn’t exactly where all the “Proud Parents” bumper stickers were coming from. Indeed, many of my “team” peers didn’t graduate, and very few completed college. But I suspect that this had less to do with being dumb and more to do with being told they were dumb.

Nobody ever said that, of course. But rarely are such momentous and devastating declarations directly said.

Fortunately, good people can foil the worst of programs. I am a teacher today because my English teachers—Sapienza, Blanchard, Misakian, Neckel, and Mosallam, whom I laud by their immortal names—saw more in me than just another “gen ed” kid. They saw a poet, an actor, a reader, a scholar, an author, and a friend. I worked my way to a 4.0 freshman GPA and eligibility for AP classes, but without the support and encouragement of my teachers, I might’ve grown up to think that I was dumb.

I’m back at Fordson to do for our community’s youth what was once done for me: to show kids that they’re not dumb.

I’m back at Fordson to do for our community’s youth what was once done for me: to show kids that they’re not dumb. With the exception of my sixth hour Honors class, I’m a “gen ed” teacher, and so by choice. During my hiring interview, I was asked if I wanted to teach AP English classes.

“I know you’ve probably never heard this before,” I said, “but I have a knack for ‘at-risk’ kids. Gimme your worst.”

This is not some priestly martyrdom on behalf of the cognitively disadvantaged. I teach “gen ed” kids because they’re smart. They might not read at grade level, but they can read you the second you enter the room. They sniff out your patronizing coward-jargon from across the building, and they know you by your gait. They might not pass the weekly vocab test, but lift up the hood of a car and they’ll dissect its entrails with a surgical eloquence that contests your most nuanced Harvard applications. Maybe they can’t write an essay, but they’ll so lucidly prove to you that they have to go to the bathroom without a pass that even Aristotle’s Rhetoric wouldn’t stand a chance.

Most importantly, they fail our classes not because they’re dumb, but because many of them have recognized and denounced our superficial, arbitrary metrics of success and are tired of the patronizing pity in our tones when we refer to “gen ed” kids, ACE kids, ELs, and “at-risk” students as if they were leprous pariahs.

I teach “gen ed” kids because they’re smart. They might not read at grade level, but they can read you the second you enter the room.

Here’s some simple, honest language: We need to stop telling kids they’re dumb by not telling kids they’re dumb. It’s not clever, efficient, or appropriate. They know what we mean, and the greater tragedy is that some of them might actually grow up to believe it.

Tbh idc if a kid’s “gen ed” or not. Nvm their PSAT, WIDA, or SRI score, bc those don’t measure intelligence, potential, or creativity. Imo, let’s cut the bs, drop the labels, and teach human beings who all can learn. EOD.

  1. Thank you for honoring Dearborn Blog with your prestigious and historical, form literary perspective, contributions!

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