EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

March 3, 2009

Letter: The brightest aren't always the best

To the editor:

I am interested in the debate between the Timberlane School personnel and the parents. It is centered on the proposal to "randomly mix students of differing abilities" rather than separate them into classes according to their academic performance as is the present method.

One parent questions why "the best students should be in the same class with less studious youngsters" rather than in an "accelerated class." A mother wants to be sure that her "youngest is going to get the same quality education as (the) oldest." The high school Principal Donald Woodworth claims that in his experience, "The most gifted are not always the top students." He would like to have "less gifted students who have the desire to succeed, to have a chance to prove that they deserve to be in accelerated classes." I agree with Principal Woodworth and I believe his theory can be proven.

My questions are: Why should a student be labeled "subpar" and placed in a group less expected to learn? Who can predict what a teenager might be able to do 10 or 20 years from now? To second guess a student's potential at an early age is to stigmatize him for life.

In thinking back to the mixed classes of my school years, the ones regarded as "top students" were the ones gifted with memorizing power. On a test they could "feed back" the answers (which was what the test required), but they could not rationalize their use. Thus our high-level graduates faded to nothing in their later working years because they had little to offer. Neither the salutatorians not the valedictorians proved the value of the high honors bestowed on them.

On the other side, those deemed less gifted became the successful businessmen of the mid-century. How did that happen? With reasoning and effort, they could use what they had grasped in association with the others classed "above par."

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