Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Neglecting genius

~from Dr. Blosser at Pertinacious Papist
Have any of you who are educators noticed how many memoranda from the administration these days carry attachments with protocols and programs for students with disabilities? I'm not referring here primarily to those with unambiguous disabilities such as hearing impairment or confinement to a wheelchair, about whose conditions I have little question. I'm referring to those, often self-diagnosed, who claim disability status in terms of ambiguous quasi-medical expressions like "attention deficit disorder," "dislexia," "text anxiety syndrome," and the like, which, I'm sorry to say, seem to cover a multitude of sins from sloth, lack of preparedness, and simple intellectual incompetence, as well as genuine psycho-medical problems in some cases. Have you noticed how many otherwise ordinary and able-looking students approach you with forms notifying you of various disabilities and disorders they reportedly have? Even among your otherwise "normal" underachievers, have you noticed how many of their parents pummel you with irate phone calls when their children fail, when, after all, they have paid full tuition for them? (Never mind the fact that they've slept through most of their courses hung over from their nocturnal frat parties constituting their actual raison d'etre at college.)

A recent issue of Time magazine carries an article by John Cloud entitled "Failing Our Geniuses" (Time, August 16, 2007 online; August 27, 2007, print). The subtitular description reads: "In U.S. schools, the highest achievers are too often challenged the least. Why that's hurting America -- and how to fix it."

The good news is that of the 62 milion school-age kids in the U.S., 62,000 have IQs of 145 or higher. But the good news stops there. According to the article, one study shows that 40% of the top 5% of high school grads fail to finish college. Most damning, however, is the fact that U.S. schools spend $8 billion -- that's eight BILLION dollars -- a year educating the mentally retarded, By the most generous calculation, says cloud, we spend no more than 10% of that on the gifted. What kind of sense does it make to spend 10 times as much trying to bring low-achievers to bare proficiency as we do to nurture those with the greatest potential? In fact, it's worse than that: those with the greatest potential are practically marginalized, on the assumption that they will succeed willy-nilly, but all too often merely left to fall through the cracks. It's not merely that the intellectually gifted have emotional needs as real as those of anyone else, including the mentally challenged. It's far worse: motivated by a false sense of compassion, we are pouring the greatest part of our national educational resources massively into programs for our mentally handicapped and disabled, while neglecting our gifted with whom our national future lies. I'm no Darwinian and I don't cotton to the Zarathustrianism of Nietzsche, but this faux compassion has no future.
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