Monday, November 18, 2013

There is Nothing Wrong With Being Average



I am very irked by this newfound idea that all students have to be AP students.

I recently received an e-mail from a very elated superintendent sharing our success as a school because of our high enrollment in AP classes and our high AP test scores. Bravo to us!

I also received a giant, freshly color printed brochure in the mail that was perhaps an advertisement for our school district, but was reminiscent of a proud mother's brag book.

Don't get me wrong; I am also very proud of my school district's accomplishments in the world of Advanced Placement (AP). But what I'm struggling with is the very notion of "AP" in itself.

Lately, I've noticed that students are basing most of their high school class choices on these designated AP classes. Students choose to take these AP classes by parental push or by general popularity, and not by genuine interest. They hear distant rumors that it "looks good on a college application" or that it will take the place of a college credit. Some students take the class to brag that they survived it; while others take it because they've heard it was an easy A.

I am not a college acceptance liaison, so I cannot pretend to speak for them here. Perhaps the two letters "A-P" next to a class title on a transcript truly impresses them to the point of acceptance, I can't say. What I can say is that many students take the AP class in high school, pass the test, and find that the credit is completely arbitrary in their college experience. Some colleges won't accept an AP credit in their own particular grand schemes, while other students find that the major they choose in college does not align with their past AP experiences, thus making their earned credit unnecessary.

My struggle is this: students are choosing to take AP classes because of a promised college reward, and not because of a genuine interest, passion or desire to extend themselves in that area. And the school district is OKAY with this. In fact, they encourage it. They brag about high levels of AP class enrollments. It is as if they are saying it's okay that we have 95 kids enrolled in AP classes who are apathetic about the subject and are only enrolled in order to gain some supposed "reward" because that looks better printed on a fancy color brochure than having only 35 kids enrolled.

So what does this do for those 35 students who truly do care about the subject and are actually academically capable of exploring it on a deeper level?

To me, this is reminiscent of the awful parenting idea that "every child is capable" and "every child should get a reward just for participating."

No. The fact is, some kids are smarter than others. Some kids are stronger at some subjects than others.  Some kids are more capable of academic rigor than others. And that's OKAY. By infusing our students with the idea that AP classes are necessary for future success, we are essentially leveling out our standards. We are making AP the "norm" rather than the exception, and this makes me sorry and sad for the students who have a genuine thirst for knowledge in the subject and a will to learn more about it.

Again, like I said, I am proud of my school district. I'm thankful to be teaching in an area where there is so much support for Advanced Placement classes. I just wish there was more realistic support for students. I wish parents, teachers, counselors would stop cramming the idea of the "star academic AP-college-bound student" in to kids' heads and start honing in on what kids are actually good at and how they can realistically be successful.

This all links back to the moral I have always adamantly stood by that, regardless of what every leader in academia tells you, college is not for everyone. The path to success is not such a one way, non-winding street.

It is our job as educators, to stop shoving these incredibly unique, gifted, individual students in to compact little mason jars of "AP college bound academic all-star" and start encouraging students to follow other paths.

If my toilet breaks, I would like a plumber who knows what he's doing to come fix it. I sure as hell don't care if he took any advanced placement classes in high school.

Note: Hats off to you, AP teachers. You do wonderful work and I truly admire what you do. This blog is written not to discredit your work by any means.

1 comment:

Lisa Baird said...

I support your opinions. In my world there are 100's of grade-schoolers wearing t-shirts that sport the words: "follow me to college" across their shoulders...purchased by the PTO.

College is a business first and then an educational system... in the world we live in today.
Only 999 more student loan payments to go.....right Maddie?

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