A student’s perspective on GATE

By From page A8 | January 29, 2013

By Claire Finn

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Davis GATE issue these past months and have been very interested in what the community has had to say. However, I have noticed that while many parents and other adult community members have voiced their perspectives, a voice that the conversation ultimately revolves around has not — that is, the voice of a Davis student who has been through the system, has many friends and peers who were and were not in GATE, and who has seen what GATE is and who is in it from an insider’s perspective.

And so, as a college sophomore who went to Davis schools from first through 12th grade, I write this letter.

Listening to students and parents, I sense that the primary reason parents enroll their children in GATE is to give them an education boost that ultimately will lead to advanced courses in high school and then to college. I believe this reason gets warped into the idea that says that GATE is the way for this to happen.

I was never a GATE student, and yet (not to blow my own horn) I was successful. I got good grades, took advanced classes and was qualified (and then lucky enough) to get into the college of my choice. I also felt achievement, purpose and happiness thanks to the challenging, fabulous education I received.

My point is that many of my non-GATE friends and I ended up on the same “track” as my GATE friends did; from what I can see, we did equally well. I have GATE friends who agree that they probably would have ended up in the same place at graduation no matter what “track” they were on.

It is not as if GATE is unimportant — it is very important for those who need it. But Davis GATE overwhelmingly serves children who are not so much “gifted” in the actual sense of the word as they are gifted with the ability to learn well and quickly. After 11 years of interaction and observation with my peers, how many GATE kids do I know that have brains that work differently enough that they can’t function in a normal classroom? The number is almost zero.

From what I’ve seen, GATE does not produce results any different from those that come from a non-GATE Davis education. So why enroll bright students in a system that tends to produce segregated classrooms and continues to plant false ideas about superiority in young children’s minds and let them stew there into young adulthood?

The kids who are accelerated learners are lucky, and with and without GATE they are for the most part going to be fine. As a previous letter to the editor said, do no harm.

The Lafayette School District proved that downsizing GATE works. As a student knowledgeable about Davis schools in one of the most intimate ways, I fully support a similar plan in our community and urge you to do the same in whatever way you can. Thank you.

— Claire Finn is a 2011 Davis High School graduate and a sophomore at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

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