As the Great GATE Debate continues unabated in our town, I think it’s only fair to hear from some of the program’s most ardent defenders, as expressed in op-eds, letters to the editor, online petitions and late-night phone conversations.
Writes one: “We must encourage and challenge our brightest students or face an inferior population that is unable to develop the future science and tools needed to prevent further U.S. downfall. Separately, the average or slower student needs to be taught without being discouraged by their inability to ever be a ‘genius.’ ”
I couldn’t agree more. We need to separate the best and the brightest in our schools from the inferior kids who don’t know North Korea from North Carolina. Every morning, right after the Pledge of Allegiance, this latter group should be required to write “I will never be a genius” 10 times on the blackboard just to be sure they will never harbor wishes and hopes and dreams of doing great things with their dull and dreary lives. Better they know now their limitations rather than learn the bitter lessons of failure somewhere down the road.
Others write of how these “average” students cause discipline problems and slow everyone down with their inability to learn at a faster pace, causing boredom among the would-be geniuses in our schools.
Again, I couldn’t agree more. The problem, however, is much greater than merely separating the geniuses from the non-geniuses in the classroom. After all, classroom time makes up only part of the school day.
There is still time for non-GATE kids to slow down and flat out bore the dickens out of the smarter kids during recess, lunchtime, in the bathroom, in school assemblies, at choir practice or during playground kickball games. Non-GATE kids may even end up parking their bicycles next to GATE kids and inadvertently attempt to strike up a totally boring conversation.
Another parent of a budding genius writes: “The arguments against GATE are simply emotion” and “class envy.” Yet another talks of “sour grapes” and yet another compares brilliant school kids to “seeds that need to be intensively cultivated for the best crop.”
Indeed. But the problem here is that even if we separate the genius from the generic, the bright from the boring, and the daring from the dull, our schools have our children for fewer than 35 hours a week, including nap time.
Last time I checked, there were 168 hours in an average week, which means there are 133 hours during which GATE kids and non-GATE kids may cross paths in the grocery store, at the movies, on the soccer field or in line for frozen yogurt with a choice of toppings.
And each such interaction has the potential to pull the GATE kids down and keep them from restoring this country to its former glory.
The problem is especially acute in “mixed” families that may have both a GATE child and a non-GATE child living under the same roof. Or a genius parent with a non-genius spouse. Talk about a mixed marriage.
No wonder the sit-down family dinner has become a thing of the past. How on Earth can even the most well-meaning parents carry on a conversation with their non-GATE kids that does not cause their GATE child to fall head first into her mashed potatoes?
Where do you go on a family vacation when the GATE child prefers the Palace of Fine Arts and the non-GATE kids would rather go to Fairytale Town and discuss whether Humpty Dumpty and the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe were actually real people.
Even packing a lunch for school is fraught with difficulties when the GATE child prefers a tray of sushi and a chunk of Camembert, while the non-GATE child, who can’t even spell “Camembert,” insists on peanut butter and jelly with a slice of Velveeta.
At bath time, the GATE child instinctively knows the function of both the hot water handle and the cold water handle, just like when mom and dad take a shower. (Mom and Dad, however, are not allowed to shower together lest they inadvertently produce another non-GATE child who will slow down the town’s budding geniuses and dash the bright hopes for America’s future.)
Despite all the above, one Davis family with just such a “mixed” batch of offspring reports that on a recent visit to Legoland, their children engaged in a “use your creativity” Lego building contest in which one of their non-GATE children took first place and their GATE child finished dead last. The GATE child, it turns out, complained that she “couldn’t find the glue” to hold her Lego blocks together.
So maybe there’s hope for some of these otherwise dull and drab non-GATE children after all.
Even if they will never be geniuses or part of the best crop.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org