I’m grateful as ever to the inspiring Siobhan Chan for encouraging me to participate in exploring the MTBoS. Every educator should be so fortunate to have an academic kindred spirit in their building the way I do. It’s just an extra bonus that she’s a rad human being as well.
This week I’m pondering ONE THING that happens in my classroom that sets it apart from others. As I’ve been reflecting on my own experience in a gifted/talented magnet high school, I’ve decided to write about this:
I teach students in our district’s highly capable program without breeding the elitism that’s the albatross of gifted/talented programs everywhere.
Me with some of the kids who made up the 60-student Class of 2001 at the Utica Center for Math, Science, and Technology.
I’m fortunate that our district has a strong commitment to making sure our HCP represents our student body at large, so I don’t have to deal with a class that unfairly skews toward higher SES families and Asian/Caucasian families. That DOES NOT MEAN that my class rejects qualified white students. But it does mean that our selection committee looks deeper than just for kids who are good at playing school.
I briefly pondered whether claiming my class has a lack of elitism was elitist of me, and I decided it might be, but if so, I guess it’s at least admirable that we’re tackling things head on.
Some classes discourage using the word “smart,” and although I’m not on that page, I DO come down pretty hard on “stupid” and “I can’t.” When the shooting happened at Sandy Hook, one of my students said during our class meeting, “The guy who did it must have been really dumb.” My immediate response was, “Absolutely not. He was brilliant. He would have been in this classroom. He was smart like one of you. That’s why it’s critical that we use our mental faculties for good, not evil, in this world.”
This relates directly to math and the idea that even as 2nd and 3rd graders, some of my kids already think of themselves as being inherently good or bad at math. I try to impart on my students the idea that if we can think, we can do math. Math is thinking, math is communicating, math is a language. Which is why this piece from Neil Tyson is brilliant and amazing:
If I’m not into elitism, you may be wondering, then why do I still support gifted education? I take a line from James Borland’s philosophy (or at least my interpretation of his philosophy): Ultimately, in an ideal world, teachers would truly be able to differentiate their instruction for all learners. Until then, it’s critical that we continue to challenge and support our highest achieving students.
My children have already suffered too long as “peer teachers” for their classmates and participated in “self-guided instruction” that was really just having them sit in a corner and read. They deserve a rigorous and relevant education that prepares them for a life pursuing their passions.
My goal is to help my students develop their talents while providing a bridge to the neuronormative world. This bridge is the key to avoiding elitism. And beyond our classroom, my goal is to provide an entry point to other teachers who are looking to increase the level of discourse in their math instruction but are nervous or insecure about doing so.
I have much to learn. The sign on our classroom door reads, “There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out.” Time to head further down the road.