As if the learning losses suffered due to Covid lockdowns over the last several years didn’t harm children enough, left-wing elites have another “solution” in search of a problem: eliminating honors classes.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the trend, highlighting controversies in several southern California districts over their moves to nix honors courses in high schools. It represents the latest example of how the left’s moves to enforce “equity” will result in lower standards and less learning for children of all skin colors and backgrounds.
The Journal interviewed the superintendent of the Culver City Unified School District outside Los Angeles. The superintendent, Quoc Tran, defined the issue of honors classes thusly:
Parents say academic excellence should not be experimented with for the sake of social justice. … [But] it was very jarring when teachers looked at their AP enrollment and realized black and brown kids were not there. They felt obligated to do something.
And when teachers “felt obligated to do something,” what did that “something” entail? Not giving the additional motivation and encouragement that African American and Hispanic students might need to take more challenging classes. Not providing nonwhite students with any extra tutoring or help they might need to succeed in those challenging classes. No, “doing something,” in this case, meant nixing honors courses entirely.
Pedro Frigola, a parent with two students enrolled at Culver City high school, hit the nail on the head when he explained why he opposed the district’s move: “I was born in Cuba, and it doesn’t sound good when people are trying to achieve equal outcomes for everyone.”
Harming All Students
As someone who enrolled in every possible honors and Advanced Placement class offered in his high school, I can state that ending honors classes won’t help student achievement — it will only degrade students’ performance and discipline. I can speak from experience in saying that students who do not feel challenged in the classroom and who feel confined by a slower pace of instruction will often resort to playing pranks and other unruly behavior out of sheer boredom — a condition that helps neither them nor their classmates.
This is not to denigrate those who need additional encouragement or instruction to synthesize lessons and master the curriculum. But it is to denigrate the woke mentality present in pedagogy that now considers success and merit four-letter words.
On the face of it, only two possible scenarios explain the lack of minority student enrollment in advanced classes discussed by the Culver City superintendent. Either teachers in Culver City and other similar districts haven’t given minority students the tools they need — whether instruction, motivation, or a combination of the two — to enroll in, and succeed at, honors and other advanced classes. Or African American and Hispanic students can’t learn as well as peers of other races.
I don’t believe the second statement for an instant. The success of inner-city charter schools — where nonwhite students can far outperform their counterparts in traditional public schools and, in some cases, outperform students in wealthier suburban districts — demonstrates that students can overcome any obstacles that class may have put in front of them, provided they have quality instruction.
But rather than taking a good hard look in the mirror and asking themselves, “How are we failing these minority students?” the educational establishment instead wants to “solve the problem” by eliminating honors courses. Rather than trying harder so all students, or at least as many as possible, can learn at an advanced level, districts like Culver City are effectively giving up on their students entirely.
Teachers Should Always Challenge Their Students
One of the highest compliments I ever received came during commencement weekend when I met some of the families of the students I had taught in a university honors colloquium on health care. A mother of one of my students pulled me aside and said of her daughter, “She didn’t talk about all of her professors, but she talked about you — because you challenged her.”
Nearly a decade later, those words still echo in my ears, for I can think of no higher praise — in or out of the classroom — than to know that one helped another achieve his or her highest potential. Moves like those made by Culver City go in the exact opposite direction by discouraging higher achievement along all points of the student talent spectrum.
It angers me to no end that, after forcing the schoolhouse doors closed by blocking the reopening of schools during the pandemic, some teachers unions and educational bureaucrats want to exacerbate learning loss by denying students every opportunity to succeed. America’s next generation deserves far better — and hopefully, with an expansion of school choice, they will eventually get it.