New York City’s public school system is among the most racially segregated in America. It is also one of the few school systems that uses standardized tests to sort incoming kindergarteners into separate “gifted” and non-gifted educational tracks.
This week, Bill de Blasio’s school-integration advisory group suggested that these two facts are related. In fact, the mayor’s advisers argued that gifted programs are a leading driver of segregation in the city’s schools, and should therefore be phased out. Much of the city’s (famously liberal) public responded with incredulous outrage.
“Too many teachers are constantly thinking that if they had more time, resources and space they could make a difference. For some teachers that could be true, but for most the last thing they need is more. They need different, and that’s what they struggle with. It’s simple: if your teaching practice is not having an effect on your students’ performance, you must change.”
What Are You Changing?
There is something to this idea of less is more. For a teacher who can’t prioritize, organize, or integrate, more isn’t helpful or supportive, but rather an endless, wide-open and formless space.
Everyone needs structure–some kind of framework or pushback that offers form. 350 separate reading comprehension apps only help if, for whatever reason, you needed 350 separate reading comprehension apps. Otherwise, you’re choking separating the wheat from the chaff while taking time away from the critical integration.
Vladimir Nabokov once observed that “a writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.” The geobiologist Hope Jahren possesses both in spades. Her engrossing new memoir, “Lab Girl,” is at once a thrilling account of her discovery of her vocation and a gifted teacher’s road map to the secret lives of plants — a book that, at its best, does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.
Ms. Jahren, a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii, conveys the utter strangeness of plants: these machines, “invented more than 400 million years ago,” that create sugar out of inorganic matter — wondrous machines upon which human life itself depends.