By Allison Duquette
I recently helped out with a booth at the Champlain Valley Fair. VPACT and the parent group in Essex, SPEAK, collaborated on the booth. Our intention was to educate people on what is being taught in the schools and to encourage families to be more involved. Most people were supportive of our efforts and we had some very interesting conversations.
A Milton High School student approached the booth and started a conversation. I want to first give her kudos for coming up to us. I was there with a member of SPEAK and I can understand how intimidating that might have been for her to do that. She introduced herself as an MHS student who was on the original draft committee for the equity policy. She recognized me from my VPACT shirt as someone who fought hard against the policy. She wanted to know why and I asked her if she thought it was fair that students shouldn’t be graded based on the quality of their work, but instead based on how difficult their home life might be. (This is called “holistic” grading.) She said she thought it was entirely fair that a student who has more issues at home should be graded more favorably or be able to turn their work in later than others.
That was the response I was expecting, but as the conversation continued it was clear to me that she had been fully indoctrinated by the school to think this way and that she was woefully unprepared for a life outside of academia. She expressed that it was robbing a student of an education to not allow them to graduate even if they couldn’t do the work because of outside forces. I expressed that I felt exactly the opposite. Allowing students to graduate and move on without being able to do grade level work (50% of students in VT can’t perform at grade level in any subject) robs them of an education perpetuating a lifetime of failure and under preparedness.
I then asked her, if we should allow students to pass their work in late, would that prepare them to meet deadlines when they graduate and get jobs? She said that school is different because students might have siblings to take care of or dinner to cook. I asked her, “Do you not think that as an adult I don’t have to cook dinner or take care of my family and also get work done on time?” My friend stated that in her job she too has to meet hard deadlines and other responsibilities. She had no reply and had not taken into account that most adults have responsibilities outside of work. The school (and her parents) are not preparing her or other students to function in society.
The conversation shifted to the difference between equity and equality. The school has given her the notion that equity is giving everyone what they need to succeed which confuses the two terms. When we told her that equity is the attempt to create equality of outcomes, there seemed to be a disconnect. It wasn’t that she disagreed, she literally could not understand the concept and kept twisting our words around in examples that didn’t make practical sense. When we tried to explain what equality of opportunity was, she thought we meant that we wanted all students to study the same subject in college such as biology. We explained, “We want all students who want and have the aptitude for biology to study biology. But students who want to study something else should have the opportunity to study something else. And they should be afforded the resources to succeed to the best of their abilities.”
We expressed concerns that in order to achieve equality of outcomes advanced students must necessarily be kept from excelling too much, because it’s not possible for the students at the bottom to be brought up to their level. I told her that I was concerned because many school districts that adopt equity policies end up doing away with AP courses because they aren’t “equitable”. The justification for removing them is that not everyone can get into them so they shouldn’t be offered. This is the same mentality that allows students to turn work in late or be graded more favorably because of their circumstances. It was at this point that the discussion disintegrated.
We offered literature that members of our groups had written as well as suggested other reading and videos on the topic, but she refused to even consider looking at them. At times during our conversation a friend of hers came up and told her to leave because talking to us wasn’t worth it. It became apparent that neither of them really had an interest in seeing our perspective.
I don’t want to give the impression that this girl was stupid. Far from it. She was clearly a smart young woman who has been failed by the school system. I’m sure she gets great grades because she regurgitates everything she has learned. However, it was clear that her and her friend had no critical thinking skills. They were so entrenched in the ideology that they could only repeat what they had heard instead of making a coherent case for their opinions. Opinions that the school had given them. As she and her friend walked away, I was saddened that the school system had only taught them what to think, not how to think. They have been taught not to become functioning members of society, but activists that can only complain about the unfairness of the system. We are failing our students and spending a lot of money on that failure. Parents and tax payers should be furious. My only hope is that our discussion planted the seed in this one student’s mind and she becomes more open to start doing her own research and thinking for herself.