Jessica Wald: Labels aren’t elitist
In the past months the debate in our community about the district’s “equal access” model has become increasingly divisive. Ironically, our schools teach students to be independent minded, learn by questioning and to make their own judgments. Yet when some of the community starts to think for themselves and to question the wisdom of a school policy, labels start flying.
For years I have heard the label “elitist” when discussing the needs of our top students. I, and other parents of high-achieving kids, often find ourselves labeled as pushy parents or elitists and, in recent months, racists, bigots and separatists. These are ugly, hurtful words and have absolutely no basis in the reality of who I am, how I live my life or what I teach my kids.
An analogy between how society perceives star athletes and how it perceives academically talented students can be thought provoking. What would the community think if we got rid of the label “varsity” athlete along with JV teams? Top athletes would inspire the less talented or less motivated and all would improve together. Of course, the top athletes would have to give up time on the hardest ski slopes or spend less time honing their skills with others of the same skill level. Would this be an acceptable tradeoff for the perceived benefit of the other athletes? How competitive would our teams be? Would the removal of the motivation to make the “varsity” team create an atmosphere of mediocrity? Would some athletes who used to shine on the JV team, now feel less capable? How frustrated would our top athletes be?
Kids are different in so many areas of life, which is not a negative. The differences between us make our society rich. All of us label kids with words like varsity athlete, reader, talented artist, elite skier or guild musician. Why is the term “honors student” or “academically advanced” elitist and the others are acceptable descriptions of a person’s identity?
Easy labels have been thrown around this community implying that those of us who disagree with the district have a goal of separatism; we don’t want our kids with “those” kids. This is so insulting to parents who are questioning and genuinely concerned about how this policy affects their students’ opportunities. I know parents who will not speak up because they are fearful of the labels and how that may affect their business or relationships.
Equity and equal opportunity for all students is non-negotiable. Prior to the current model we did not have a tracked educational system. However, there has been a stubborn and unacceptable lack of diversity in our most advanced classes. This problem can be addressed without dismantling advanced classes for our top students. A desire for advanced or honors level classes is not because of an elitist or racist mentality but because that is what fits our top students’ academic needs.
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