Concerns about ability grouping

Reader: We must break predetermination

Re “Challenges faced in any classroom,” May 24: The writer begins his advocacy of Ability Grouping by citing the problem: Low-income urban children are not prepared for school because their parents are struggling to meet the bills and put food on the table. Unfortunately, his solution does nothing to address the issue he identifies.

Instead, he presses for Ability Grouping at earlier grades. It is a technique that separates the disadvantaged from opportunity and perpetuates our darkest societal stereotypes. Culling the disadvantaged even earlier further assures that less will be expected from them and less will be presented to them. Their future options will become narrower and narrower and they will fall further and further behind both the cohort mean and the advantaged. How is this a good idea?

Let’s address the issue that the writer identifies: The poor have been left out of economic progress and more of the middle class is slipping into the poor. Wages have not kept up with inflation while corporate profits and CEO compensation have exploded to unheard of levels.

Soon after I was born, in 1951, my father began digging ditches with a pick and shovel for a local utility. Even at entry-level wages and without a high school diploma, my dad was able put healthy food on the table and my mom was able to stay home and prepare that food. They could afford to rent a small two-bedroom house, drive a reliable used car, start their family, tithe, save for retirement and save to buy their first home.

Today, both partners in a relationship are obliged to work full-time. And that still doesn’t guarantee enough income to provide what my father alone was able to buy for our family.

The money is already there to pay the wages my dad earned. It’s in the inflated price of every item we buy today. Wages have simply not kept up with prices. Wages have become a smaller and smaller proportion of price while the profit proportion has burgeoned. The wage portion of price should have grown even faster than inflation because along the way employees became more efficient and productive every year. Class warfare indeed.

While the real solutions to low academic achievement lie outside the classroom, there are things that can be done inside. In the case cited, the higher achieving student should mentor the low achievers with an emphasis on raising the overall class average. The experience will enrich both groups and begin to break down institutionalized inequity.

I am assuming that the writer means well and we share the same goals. Steering children earlier into predetermined paths of education, success, wealth and position is not the answer. Indeed, we must break predetermination lest we ignore the vast potential in our midst that is being smothered by false fortune and neglect. — VIRGIL SWEEDEN, WASHINGTON TWP.