Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is ripping off the title of an opinion piece written by a Harvard student in their newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. You can read the piece here.
Angie Gabeau, a student who works as an editorial editor for her college newspaper, writes about the current case for which the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week. The case is complicated, but it was brought on behalf of Asian-Americans who believe that Harvard University’s admissions policies discriminate against them. Others are defending and filing amicus curiae briefs to explain why policies that embrace maintaining the diversity of a student body are important.
But that was her starting point. What grabbed GOT’s attention was her contention that the problem of diversity in collegiate student bodies goes far beyond admission policies. “… we need equity movements in high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, and pre-schools. Some students are not granted the opportunity to seek higher education because they are deprived of adequate educational resources at a younger age.”
And, “There are students [at Harvard] that have to work twice as hard as students who went to elite and private middle schools and high schools because they had half the experience.”
Ms. Gabeau makes an important argument that we should pay attention to. For GOT, she has him rethinking how he sees his high school, his place of work.
A teacher in Jacksonville, FL, GOT works at a magnet school that offers what it proclaims as advanced studies. That two-word phrase is in the name. Students apply for admission and enter a lottery process for the available seats. The only qualification for admission is that students must have a passing grade in Algebra 1. That’s the course, not the state exam. Admission decisions have to be made before the state reports exam results to the school. Students who have not passed Florida’s End-of-Course exam for Algebra 1 have one year to do so. They have a conditional seat for the first year.
(And we work like crazy to get every student who needs a pass across that threshhold throughout their freshman year.)
Upon acceptance, students enter into one of two programs, the IB program, in which they prepare for their junior and senior years that will be spent earning an IB Diploma, which requires passing many exams, writing a research paper known as the Extended Essay, and performing other requirements of community service and acquiring a Theory of Knowledge.
Students not entering the IB program go into the AP program. They take numerous AP courses during their four years of high school every one of which culminates in an AP exam. These students will take eight to ten AP exams during these years.
Do colleges respect this effort at an early age? It’s hard to know. Every once in a while an article will appear in which the authors assert that colleges are dubious about students who have gone through an ‘AP Mill.’
GOT himself has a hard time believing that 14-year-old students are truly doing college level work during their freshman year, which does not begin to address middle schools (!) now implementing AP courses such as Human Geography into their courses of study.
But Ms. Gabeau offers a differing perspective. Schools such as GOT’s are hard. Students sacrifice waking hours in doing the copious amounts of work needed for an AP course. GOT is often concerned that students are sacrificing crucial social development as they need to hit the books rather than hang out with their friends and be teenagers.
The teen years are more than a mere acquisition of book knowledge. These are the times when they form the bonds of friendship that will connect them for the rest of their lives. We cherish our parents and the time we get to spend with them during the busyness of our lives, we love our children but recognize that eventually they must leave us to live lives of their own, but our main satisfaction comes from engaging with and being connected to other people of our generation.
Other high schools in Jacksonville have begun offering AP courses themselves. At his school, GOT and his colleagues are entering an existential crisis. Why do students need to make the sacrifice–the many hours of transportation being among them–when the same thing is available down the street?
That’s the new perspective, thanks to Ms. Gabeau. Taking an AP course or two is not enough. That’s not what GOT’s school does. We prepare students for the rigor of college, even the most rigorous colleges in the world. GOT would need several hundred posts in this blog to allow every student to tell us why they return in their freshman year to thank their teachers and administrators for being ready for college. They describe the struggle of their peers and why they do not share them because they went through our program.
Why choose Paxon? (Oops, GOT dropped the veil.) If there is one thing GOT is really proud about his school, it is the student body diversity. We run about 49% Black, 30-something% white, with Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans rounding us out to 100%.
We are what Ms. Gabeau argues for. We are doing the job. We are helping students of all backgrounds to hit the ground running when they arrive on campus for freshman orientation. We are filling that gap.