I was disappointed recently when I learned that a school – one to which I’ve referred several highly able students – has decided to eliminate its honors option for freshman English.  The rationale is well-meaning enough: the teachers wanted to avoid “tracking,” or pigeon-holing kids.  They wanted, in short, to keep the playing field level.

The problem, of course, is that the playing field isn’t level.  It never has been.  Some kids need extra help or support in certain academic areas; others thirst for extra stimulation, extra challenge.  In Massachusetts we all endorse the former need.  How ironic that well-meaning, dedicated, devoted educators shy away from the latter need!

I asked my friend who’s on the English faculty in this school how he ensured that students who were already strong in English continued to be challenged in his class.  “Oh well,” he assured me, “there are always ways to say to a student ‘I’m counting on you for more.’”

Very true.  What I didn’t say to my friend (but wish I had) was this: when does the student get to say to the teacher “Hey – I’m counting on you for more, too!”  Yes, it’s always easy to pile on more work – to put more pressure on the very kids who already put plenty of pressure on themselves.  But how about that student who thirsts – not for more of the same, but for more complexity, more depth, more opportunities to explore and develop original ideas based on the material presented in class?  Let’s not allow our egalitarian impulse to deter us from developing students’ talents and interests. 

A desire to leave no child behind should never result in holding another child back.  A classroom is not a dog-sled.