Inclusive programmingbenefits all students

To the editor

   Brown versus the Board of Education established that educational policy based on the idea of separate but equal was unconstitutional when segregation is based on race. This was a powerful and important ruling. But this ruling said nothing about segregating students based on other individual differences. Maybe it’s time for a ruling that does.
   Even as today’s businesses strive to maintain a diverse work force in recognition of the power of diversity, many school districts continue to segregate students into separate "tracks" based on test scores and other dubious criteria, or in a more subtle form of school segregation, provide special programs like Hillsborough’s project REACH for "gifted and talented students."
   Segregation hurts, be it based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, learning style, or particular learning strengths and/or difficulties.
   There are at least six specific problems with gifted programs like REACH as a form of school segregation:
   During the first few weeks of school children figure out who has been deemed smart, dumb, and average. This crushes some, bloats others, and harms all.
   Gifted programs are based on the idea that gifts come in only one flavor. Children who have the right flavored gift must be segregated for at least part of their day so they can be challenged and be with others of their own kind.
   What about gifted artists, gifted designers, or children who have trouble memorizing algorithms but are gifted at recognizing and creating complex patterns and structures?
   Gifted programs are based on the notion that only selected children benefit from the kind of inquiry-learning supported by gifted programs. In fact, extensive research has demonstrated that ALL students benefit from such programs.
   If the one flavor model of gifted and talented were true, gifted programs would amount to giving more gifts to the gifted. Why dedicate special resources to those who are already the most successful at school?
   In many districts, tracking and gifted programs result in de facto segregation based on race and socio-economic status. Wealthy white children are disproportionately represented in gifted programs.
   Most importantly, humans are social beings. We survive not as individual thinking machines but as members of social systems. If diversity benefits communities, presidential cabinets, and businesses, why deny our children its benefits?
   As for the boredom experienced by some REACH children in their "regular" classrooms, this is certainly not a complaint exclusive to REACH children. Infusing the "regular" classroom with interesting and novel curricula can help ameliorate this age-old complaint and benefit ALL students.
   The Hillsborough Board of Education is trying to make an extremely limited piece of REACH available to all students. Some parents of children in REACH object. They want what’s best for their children.
   We also want what’s best … what’s best for ALL children and urge the board to go even farther in making what is now available to only a segregated few, part of the routine classroom experience of all of our children throughout their schooling.

Peter Kindfield, Ph.D.

Ann Kindfield, Ph.D.
Zion Road