Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Joanne Jacobs article: “Odd Ducks”

By on April 19, 2008

I just read Joanne Jacobs article, “Odd Ducks” that very wisely asked the question: “Is there less room for odd ducks in today’s schools?”  I believe that in the world of standardized testing, there cannot be recognition for true quirkiness, because “standardized,” by definition, recognizes the middle of the road as the higher ground.  
 

I commented:

To answer your question: it, unfortunately, depends.  It depends on the administrator: is he or she the type of person that would give a student Saturday School for having a swash of color in their hair?  It depends on the teacher: is he or she the type of person that remembers what it was like to spend your school days wrestling with your identity, even going so far as to put that swash of color in your hair to try out a new costume for the day? 
 
Case in point: I am a middle school teacher who finds that many of these “odd ducks” are quite successful in her classroom.  In fact, in meetings with other teachers, I have heard them exclaim about a particular shared student, “What a pain” or, “That kid does nothing.”  But as Matthew Needleman says, “They’re not bored, you’re boring.”  Anyway, every year the recommendations for 8th grade honors comes around and every year I look over my 7th grade brood and get excited at how many are academically eligible to apply.  And then I look at the bulleted list of requirements and sigh.  #3 on the list?  “Amiable Personality.”  
 
I argue every year.  What the heck does that mean?  Who gets to judge what is unamiable and what is creative academic protest in the presence of an intolerent teacher?  
 
And how ’bout this little tid-bit: in a Title I school of 49% Asian and 49% Latino, our honors classes are only made up of Asian and Caucasian (a group that makes up less than 1% of our district population).  
 
Now, I’m not saying that our current honors teacher makes certain groups purposefully ineligible.  I am saying that the teachers who recommend these students do so based on criteria that does not encourage diversity.
 
I have recently been approached to teach 8th grade honors next year.  (Cue the villainous wringing of my hands and the obligatory neh-he-heh).  I hope that the “odd ducks” (who make up, by my estimate, at least 10% of our school’s population) get proper representation.  And that bulleted line that says, “amiable personality?”  That will be replaced by “critical, creative thinker.”   

…who may or may not have a swash of color in their hair.

 
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  1. David Cohen
    April 19, 2008

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    My school is currently wrestling with the honors English situation, the lack of representation of certain groups, and the fact few if any students ever move up. Nothing in the lower track provides the focused/appropriate support that should supposedly suit the learning needs of these students. Shouldn’t the best performers among them be upwardly mobile, prepared for honors or AP later? That’s why we’re considering an end to tracking in grades 9/10. Radical idea, huh? A high profile high performing high district in NY abolished tracking in middle school and in grades 9/10, and found not only many more students of all types in their IB program as seniors, but higher IB scores for all, higher PSAT scores for all. Tracking does little for the “top” kids and is often criminally negligent towards lower tracks. It mainly exists to please teachers and parents.

    I have the only heterogeneous/mixed sophomore class at my school, since I received administrative blessing to run a specialized English course called Facing History and Ourselves (linked to this organization: http://www.facinghistory.org ). Though, technically, students enroll in the honors or standard version of my class, and receive differentiated assignments accordingly. But in all activities and discussions and readings, they do the same thing. So…when our department had a little paper grading exercise where we calibrate our notions of A, B, C on an essay, I brought an exemplar paper from one of my supposedly “lower track” students. Everyone who read it assumed it was a kid in the upper track. Wow – what do you know? When kids are supported in a positive environment with high expectations, they can improve more than some teachers think. Another girl came into class with a major negative attitude – “I don’t do no homework, ha ha ha!” Her friends were pretty much the same way. After enough time being surrounded by people who did homework, and being in conversations with them, she realized she wanted to contribute to the conversation but couldn’t get anywhere without knowing the book. She went from a D to a B, and for a three-month stretch, she outperformed 90% of the “honors” kids on reading quizzes. (Her writing didn’t advance quite so fast, though).

    If your colleagues don’t think teacher/institutional bias is creating your imbalance, they might also consider the results just south of you at View Park Prep in South Central L.A. It is a non-selective (just random lottery) small charter school with all African-American students. Regardless of their students’ prior records, View Park expects all students to not only apply, but enter and succeed at the nation’s most competitive colleges. They’re off to a fine start (5 years now), doing what they set out to do. Another nifty example: the Davis school district wondered why the early elementary assessment of who’s gifted and who’s not was skewing so white. Instead of relying on teachers or parents to suggest who should be tested, they decided to test every kid (3rd grade, I think). Suddenly, four times as many African-American youngsters are gifted, three times as many Latino kids, and twice as many Native Americans. For any educators or institution to think that they are an exception to the well-researched and obvious biases at work almost everywhere, well, I’d think at a minimum you’d have to be able to point at specific safeguards or training that make you the exception to the rule.

    Borrowing from one of your fellow bloggers, TMAO:
    WE MUST REJECT THE IDEOLOGY OF THE “ACHIEVEMENT GAP” THAT ABSOLVES ADULTS OF THEIR RESPONSIBILITY AND IMPLIES STUDENT CULPABILITY IN CONTINUED UNDER-PERFORMANCE. THE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT GAP IS MERELY THE EFFECT OF A MUCH LARGER AND MORE DEBILITATING CHASM: THE EDUCATOR ACHIEVEMENT GAP. WE MUST ERASE THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE TYPE OF TEACHERS WE ARE, AND THE TYPE OF TEACHERS THEY NEED US TO BE. – see http://roomd2.blogspot.com/

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