Forests and Trees

I have observed that often in our quest to solve problems we forget to think about what that original act was intended to do. We lose the view of the forest as we busily solve the problem related to one tree, or maybe we even invent problems related to trees that don’t actually exist because actually where the tree is in the forest turns out to be just fine. Or sometimes, maybe the person trying to fix the tree has an ulterior motive and they don’t give a good goddamn about the forest or the tree or anything but themselves.

About a million years ago I went to high school. My high school was in a smallish town but we were a good enough school and sent people off to all the best colleges or not depending on how well you did and how engaged you were and all of that. But the options were there if you wanted them. Among the options available for people so inclined were honors level courses and advanced placement courses, you know APs, those gates to future happiness and success as we are told today. Now growing up when I did and going to school in a small town we also had shop classes and future farmers of america and a sort of general variety of trade study options that no longer exist because we have devalued everything but college. In eighth grade the high school counselors would come around to ALL of the English classes and hand out course selection guides. And you got to pick WHATEVER you wanted. I emphasize this because we tell stories about how kids got stuck in tracks and could never get out and that is why tracking is terrible, but where I went to school each individual got to check the box they were interested in and then every year in high school at the end of the year you got to change your mind if you wanted. It might mean you had to take summer classes to catch up but you never got stuck with no option to change, you just checked a new box.

If you picked the college track, and had good enough grades and the right prerequisites then you could take Advanced Placement classes. They were for if you were zooming along in your learning and you wanted to take a college level class. They were not a requirement for just getting into college as they are today, and they were not right for everyone so you took them if you were personally motivated or if you had crazy parents. I was not motivated and my parents were not crazy in that way so I only took one AP class and I have basically survived. My daughter who is just about to finish her first year in college took a bazillion AP classes because she was motivated (tbd on the the crazy parents) and it was good for her. The faster pace and the more sophisticated content all worked for how she learned, and all she gets for it is slightly earlier registration for her college classes. They were good classes for her because they were good at the time, not for any other reason.

The College Board who administers the AP exam has decided that not enough students are getting the “opportunity” to take AP classes, and I would assume also the AP tests that run $95 per. They say there is a gap in racial and economic balance in AP classes.  They say this is a systemic problem and they want a lot more kids in AP classes. I am absolutely an advocate for every student having access to the classes that are right for them. Creating the right environment for a class starts with preschool and is a complex problem so we are not going to try and solve it at the root level just now. We are going to shove a ton more kids into advanced classes on the presumption that everyone wants to be in advanced classes, we are not going to ask, we are not going to solve problems in educational equity when they start, and we are not going to value anything but a college education. Okay – opportunity is starting to look like obligation but whatever, even though only 35% of first year college students are graduating in 4 years. Oh and also, the materials required for AP classes are about three times more expensive than regular materials, I already mentioned the cost of the test, and then if you do well and want to send your scores on to colleges, well that will be $15 per score per school. Please make your checks out to the College Board. If you need tutoring material you can order that from their website too.

One thought on “Forests and Trees

  1. At Russell’s potential high school, they offer an AP course to freshmen, because of the fail rate of a certain AP class for sophomores. So, the solution from the College Board is to offer the frosh class (they all fail the AP test) in hopes that the knowledge they learn in that class will help them pass the sophomore AP class. I sat there listening to this “great” solution and thought what a crock. You are exactly right, shove them in, even if they don’t want to be there.

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