A plea for compassion for the slow learners

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They are not potential rocket scientists. Most are not college material. Most cannot write a coherent paragraph and they are fourteen years old, raised in schools in the United States. Some may be the victim of poor teachers and poor instruction. But many are just… slow.

We go over and over the multistep equations. I try multiple approaches to get the idea across. The idea dies before my eyes. I am particularly fascinated by the homework papers turned in without a single correct answer. These papers are virtually always written by girls who wish to please me by doing their homework even though they manifestly have no clue what the symbols on the sheet mean.

I should not be inflicting this homework on these girls. We have to teach certain concepts, I am told, in order to get them ready for the state test. But they can’t get ready for the state test. Hell, they can’t add fractions.

These are the lost children. These are the fucked children, victims of an agenda which has no room for slow learners. Get them help, politicians say. We have to get these students ready for college.

Here’s the dirty secret: We can’t get some of them ready for college — not a real college, anyway, a college with standards that graduates students who can read, write and cipher. If after years of intensive interventions a kid still can’t remember how to turn a fraction into a decimal, with or without review, that college fantasy is a bureaucrat’s dream and a student’s nightmare.

What do these slow learners need? They need a time machine. They need to go back to the past where they would have been channeled into classes with other students who were operating at their learning levels. They need those vocational classes that we have been gutting in the name of No Child Left Behind.

One of my Facebook friends is a former student who is learning auto repair at his local community college. He’s a great kid, one of those kids who brightens up any classroom. I’m perfectly happy for him. I have to ask, though, why he has to pay all this money to get a certification that he ought to have been able to mostly complete in high school. Those classes are all gone now, the equipment sitting idle in empty rooms.

I want to ask my readers to do the following: Put yourself in the shoes of those slow learners. You have books you can’t read, tests and homework you can’t do, and the pressure is unrelenting to learn ideas that have eluded you for years. You are getting special help, but that help is still presenting you with material that is 4 or more years above your actual, documented learning-level. How do you feel? How are you benefitting from your interventions? Keep in mind that the other kids always notice special interventions and some of them may be making fun of you, too. Kids can be especially cruel in middle school.