In my senior year of high school, my peers and I received our ACT scores. I got a whopping score of 19, out of the total possible score of 36. I felt bummed and exhausted from all the studying I did for what seemed like nothing.
One week, my high school decided to give every student who got a score of 24 or higher a t-shirt, and there was to be a day in which every student who received one would wear it on the same day. This was the day every student at my high school could distinguish those who got a high score and those who got a low score, based on whether or not they were wearing the dusty purple, cheaply printed “24 and higher club” t shirt. This was the day I felt the most humiliated on account of my academic ability.
Why feel humiliated? I worked very hard and very long hours to study for the ACT test. According to the Time magazine, the average ACT score is 20. I should have been proud of my ability to attempt to achieve success, even if it did not turn out to be successful. I felt small and mostly stupid instead. And on this day, I thought, everyone could see how stupid I really was because I was not wearing the “24 or higher” pride across my chest.
This is just a small example of the everyday, subtle humiliations the public school system inflicts on young students – specifically, average students. From the time we are five years old, we are being deeply examined and tested by our superiors in order to tell whether or not we are “gifted” enough for the programs designed for said students, programs which offer more stimulating opportunities for young “special” minds to grow.
In fact, the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell states that some of the factors determining which students are gifted can actually depend on what month the child was born in. Two economists, Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey, look at the relationship between scores of fourth graders based on birth month. According to the study, they found that the older students scored four to twelve percentile points better than the younger children. So given two equally intelligent fourth graders born at opposite ends of the cutoff date, the older student would score higher than the younger student. This is the difference between qualifying for a gifted program or not.
These programs designed for gifted students can be great opportunities for young children. However, it leaves the other children behind, children like myself who were just plain average, receiving straight B’s and C’s since third grade.
My senior year of high school was when I got the courage to take not only one, but two Advanced Placement courses for the first time. I excelled tremendously in these courses, receiving an A in one and a B+ in the other. But I was never called on in class. You guessed it, it was the “smart” kids who were called on to answer questions; the kids who have taken AP courses their entire high school career. It was those kids who got meetings with the teacher about their college applications and goals. Not students like me. I was deliberately left out of every growth opportunity in a system where I was supposed to grow the most.
I wondered why I had not taken Advanced courses all through high school, if I was good enough for them the whole time. I have come to find it’s because I was always told by my public school system that I was average and not worthy of anything higher. Since the system does ability grouping so early on in childhood, the authorities tend to confuse maturity and ability. The mature students get placed in advanced classes where they learn better academic skills, then do better the next year and so on. All the while the average students are left behind, not knowing if there is anything more for them for the rest of their lives. It turns out, no thanks to public school, there is.
Until I entered college, I never saw myself as an academic student. I graduated high school with a 2.4 GPA, and I ended my freshmen year of college with a 3.5 GPA. I’ve received a scholarship for the first time in my life, an actual academic scholarship of $1,500. I get to attend the scholarship dinners and ceremonies that I never got the opportunity to go to before. When I read the information for these events I thought to myself, “how did this happen? I thought only ‘smart’ people get to go to these events.”
This is not true. College has allowed me to grow out from the box I was put into by my public school. Now I am not tied to the system that tamed my full potential.