About a week ago at my work, two different families came through my line. Their kids knew each other from school, but were in different classes. One of the children kept talking about how she was nervous to take the AIG placement test, and that she did not know if she even wanted to be in the program. The other kid started listing all of the horrible things about kids who are in AIG such as more homework “homework alll the time for hours and hours”, and having to take tougher tests. Although these conversations were just snippets of what I heard while ringing up and bagging groceries for their parents, it allowed me to start thinking about educational policy in place regarding the politics of reading.
When I was in middle school all of my friends were slowly being tested into the AIG program. In fourth grade, I was in a class different from everyone that I had known in previous years, because they had joined AIG and I hadn’t. This led to feelings of being left out and of competition with wanting to be better than the other students in my classes so that I could be worthy of joining AIG. In 5th grade I tested in and was accepted into AIG, although just barely because my math scores were so low. My parents were told that I was on the exact cutoff line for admittance on math, but had excelled in my reading scores. This was the beginning of an entirely new curriculum (or so it seemed) for my entire middle school and high school career. Being in AIG was like being in an exclusive club where all of my classmates started to feel like family. They were the same constant group of people in my classes year after year, no matter how the subjects and material changed.
In regards to reading, being in AIG fostered more enthusiasm and motivation to read, because everyone else in my class was interested in reading and learning at a faster rate than other people. As students we also were treated with more privilege, and allowed to read what we wanted to and write book reports on what we wanted to write about. Classes were no longer about learning the basics or reading and answering questions, it was about reading and interpreting the material however we felt that it was meant to be interpreted.
This experience both provides a shocking divide, at least in my experience, between being in an “academically gifted” group of people or not. There are other children like the child from my line at work that thinks AIG is some weird program that makes students work harder for no reason. For others, like the child trying to get into the program (although most likely by the pressure of her parents), it is a group of individuals where many of their classmates are already placed into, an exclusive club just for people “smart enough” to get in.
The real question is however, is AIG about being smart, or about being good at taking tests? A child who does not do well on tests is not necessarily misunderstanding the material. They may simply have text anxiety or feel tests to be too confusing or tricky to understand. The same theory goes for reading. Some children love to read. They are “naturally” good at reading, and have no difficulty picking up new concepts. Other children however struggle, and fall behind in the system because the system leaves them behind. Those who do not progress in their elementary and early middle school years, often get left in the “regular” classes and are not given opportunities that children who are in the “gifted” classes get.
This divide is unfair and primes certain children for a potentially better life than students not able to join in on the same opportunities. Although it would be challenging to teach all children the same way when they are all on different levels of comprehension, something else could be done to close the divide and give everyone equal opportunity. Opportunity that the current educational system says they are not “smart” enough to handle.