‘Elitism?’ Be Careful How You Use that Word

Tracking. It’s a hot topic in education today, a point of controversy. Some say it is the only way to really meet every student’s needs. Others argue that it holds some students back unfairly. To me, it is a modern form of segregation and does not let us think of the lessons we all can learn from working with people with differing abilities from our own.

I recently had the pleasure of reading James Theobald’s blog post, “’Elitism?’ Be Careful How You Use That Word.” In this piece, Mr. Theobald recounts his high school experience of inclusion. His school, located in the UK, used tracking. He had always struggled with reading, so he was in the “bottom set.” One day, one of the teachers came into his class, which was overcrowded, and asked for a few volunteers to move to the “top set.” He obliged.

Mr. Theobald’s post tells us about the effect of providing rich reading and discussion experiences for all of our students, even for our students who struggle the most. He writes about his newfound love for reading:
“ What I really remember is the reading. We read texts from cover to cover. And we read lots. We read To Kill a Mockingbird; we read MacBeth and Romeo and Juliet; we read The Mayor of Casterbridge. And we talked about what we were reading. And something happened to me: I found out I loved reading. I didn’t always understand everything that I was reading (I was lower ability) and I didn’t always enjoy the texts that I was reading. But I enjoyed learning from them. And I learned lots.”

Mr. Theobald was not in a special education setting, but he was considered to be in the “bottom set.” We need to consider our students from whom we continue to withhold precious learning—our students with disabilities. Even if the texts their grade-level peers are reading may be too difficult for some students with disabilities, that does not mean that they can’t learn anything from them (as we learned from Mr. Theobald).

Class discussions can be exciting and rich, teaching all of our students, including those with disabilities, to think about the world around them and grow into leaders. Holding some students back from these learning opportunities would be doing them a great disservice. It would be my greatest joy to someday read a piece by one of my students, describing the time Ms. Hopkins taught them to love learning by encouraging them to join the conversation.

I’d be interested to hear (well… read) your thoughts on this. I know inclusion in the classroom is challenging. How have your students responded to reading (or discussing reading) with their typically-developing peers? Please comment below!

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