Slow isn’t the same as stupid

Stupid is not the same thing as slow, writes Ben Orlin, a high school math teacher, in Slate. When a teacher describes a student as “slow” or “weak” or “struggling” or “behind” or “low,” each word “embodies different assumptions about the engines of success, the nature of failure, and how students’ minds operate.”

Orlin prefers to see students as “struggling,” swimming valiantly against the current.

Every night of ninth grade, (Monica) slaved over her homework, barely sleeping, fighting against the rapids, straining to tread water. I admired her tenacity, and did my best to throw her life preservers—test corrections, tutoring sessions, extra credit. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough. She failed my geometry class, and the rest of her subjects, too. (She passed freshman year the second time around.)

. . . But some students just don’t care. Math strikes them as pointless, or impossible, and they’re perfectly content to surrender to the river without a fight. David, for example, didn’t struggle at all. He eyed trigonometry, decided it wasn’t for him, and promptly failed . . .

Students know when teachers think they’re too stupid to learn, Orlin writes. “Even if we limit our usage of words like dumb to the conspiratorial privacy of the faculty lounge, kids can tell. Such judgments seep into our interactions with them.”

French teachers: No aid for slow kids

French elementary teachers are rallying against government rules requiring extra work for slow learners, reports the Washington Post. They say it violates the French ideal of providing the same education for all students.

A new rule requires teachers to do two hours a week of remedial work with failing elementary students. Alain Refalo refused to obey the ministry directive. (The French education system is run from the top down.)

(Refalo declares) that youngsters cannot work fruitfully after a six-hour classroom day. Moreover, he pointed out, the ministry had just announced budget cuts in which 3,000 special education teachers were being eliminated — and whose jobs were to help students in difficulty.

In a protest letter to the education ministry, Refalo complained that American “ideas such as competition, individualist thinking, privatization and survival of the fittest were being introduced.”

Instead of doing remedial work, Refalo used the extra time to organize theater workshops, with an eye to encouraging his 10-year-old pupils to express themselves and to delve into literature.

What about the students who can’t “delve into literature” because they can’t read well?