Saturday, May 25, 2013
By Mary E. Plouffe
A recent letter writer criticized charter schools as elitist. As a psychologist who worked in school settings for more than 20 years, I find this complaint simplistic and troubling.
The normal curve exists. And it gives each of us, by chance or genes or fate, abilities that range from deficient to extraordinary. Alongside that curve, a range of ambition, perseverance and academic interest also exists. It is less fixed but no less important in helping students find an environment in which to thrive. To accept that some students want and need a school where they move at an accelerated pace disparages no one. It simply acknowledges that if we aspire to educate all to their maximum potential, excellence deserves a seat at the educational table. To confuse this with elitism is to miss the point.
So make the argument that all students benefit when the range of ability in the classroom includes top students.
There is some truth to this, just as there is truth that special-education students benefit from being in classrooms with their average peers. But it is not the whole truth. Both ends of that normal curve sometimes need a place where their learning proceeds at their own pace.
Make the argument that charter schools draw money away from public schools. This may also be true and worthy of debate in a time of limited resources. But educators understand that doing the most for the largest number is a problem of resource allocation. It does not mean denying that the extraordinary exists and deserves our respect, in the arts, in athletics, and yes, in academics.
We can have the debate about the charter school proposal, but let us not have it on the wrong terms. To disparage those who aspire to academic excellence in a specialized environment as elitist is simply wrong and discourages our children from pursing the very success we want them to achieve and that ultimately benefits us all.
Mary E. Plouffe, Ph.D., is a psychologist who lives in Freeport.