Relevance of Classical Ideas to Contemporary Issues

One question that stood out to me regarding modern application of classic philosophies was that of selective grouping.  Gutek (2011) asks: ‘Should students be grouped into tracks on the basis of their academic ability, as Plato suggested in The Republic?’  I believe that a trip to two different high schools in Virginia would yield differing viewpoints here.  At my previous high school, students were tracked – not only as ‘AP/Pre-AP’, Advanced, Standard, or Inclusion, but also within each of those groupings based on a variety of factors stemming from an analysis of longitudinal data, Tiering, etc.  So although I taught four groups of ‘Standard’ students, the ability levels from a data-standpoint in my first class varied drastically with that of my sixth period group.  In some ways, one could argue that this would provide for easier differentiation in terms of meeting students unique ability levels, but teachers often question if this segregation is not a disservice to learners, who might benefit from the differing viewpoints or positive environment that is being cultivated among other groups.  It also provides an overwhelmingly awkward situation for students who, because of scheduling, end up as the odd duck among their particular period (ex: a student better ‘suited’ for period 1, but ostracized culturally and academically in group six).  My current high school has foregone tracking, and teachers regularly attest to the ability for struggling learners to improve or be ‘pulled up’ through peer interactions.
Another aspect of tracking relates to ‘college bound’ versus ‘vocational ed’.  I wholeheartedly understand that not all students are going to choose the college track and have much to gain from vocational opportunities in public school.  Yet, problems arise when a student who is tracked vocationally changes their mind their junior or senior year – when garnering ‘missed’ courses proves an impossible task.  In addition, although my previous school had an extensive vocational offering, only a small percentage of students within that track can actually graduate as ‘licensed’ – the others require additional classes post-graduation, and some of them are not qualified to enter those programs because of math/English-related deficiencies stemming from taking the minimal ‘core’ requirements during their 9-12 career.  A hierarchy of intellect, goals, talents, etc is not a bad thing, as long as we have supports in place for those students that are equitable to what their peers on a different track are receiving.  For example, Special Education legislation requires that a student’s access to education be equitable to that of students in a standard classroom; perhaps we need legislation to ensure that vocational students receive equitable opportunities to those participating in Governor’s Schools or Enrichment programs.
The last thing I’ll mention in terms of ‘selective process’ is the voucher system that we’ve seen emerging over the past decade.  If students are leaving particular schools and districts to join a ‘better’ institution, and taking with them the money that is allocated for their education, it undoubtedly further lessens the original institution’s chances of success.  When those taking advantage of the voucher system come from privileged backgrounds (which is often the case, because they don’t encounter transportation issues, etc), it leaves the disenfranchised and disadvantaged to exist within an environment that will undoubtedly meet punitive measures in regards to testing and so on.  We see this to some extent in rural areas that do not have voucher issues, but are seeing population decline and as such a decline in funding and other resources.  If our philosophers argue that society has an ethical obligation regarding learning, it would seem that it is our duty to aid our underperforming schools instead of withholding funding based upon subjective quantitative measurements of success.

Gutek, G. L. (2011). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

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