All Children Have Value

It doesn’t seem like we should have to say it. However, today’s reality is that America’s educational system must learn to value all children, even those who don’t do well in school. High academic achievement has become the only criterion that is important in the American educational system. Let me say emphatically – all children have value. This systemic condescension toward low achieving students is wrong. It is morally wrong and is abusive to lower achieving students. It harms them. It is not their fault they have limited intelligence. Working harder will not magically make them above average students.

The gifted and cluster programs are the best examples of elitist education. Certainly bright children deserve an excellent education, but so do the not so bright. The schools don’t cause low achievement, some of the kids just come that way. The student population comes with an undeniable bell shaped curve in intelligence. Teachers must stop chastising not so bright students for low performance. In most cases, it’s just who the kids are. Of course, there are students who have the talent to achieve at higher levels and should be appropriately encouraged to do better and there must be minimal standards. However, we must recognize that most children are not gifted.

The problem is exacerbated at the high school level. Contrary to reality, some school districts pretend they can thrust all kids through a college prep curriculum. Again this is wrong, educationally and morally wrong. But here, this misinformed elitist public policy wreaks measurable havoc with young people. At the high school level, students who cannot handle the curriculum drop out or are pushed into alternative education programs. Nationally, the highest drop out rate occurs in the ninth grade. Not coincidentally, this is when students are forced to take algebra and a college prep science course, typically either biology or chemistry. This process of pushing students out of high school either onto the street or into lower level alternative programs is caused directly by the college prep curriculum. Students who shouldn’t be in college prep classes are forced to take them. This means algebra, chemistry, biology, and geometry. Of course, there are students who have the talent to successfully master these courses and they should be properly encouraged to do so. But we must recognize that most students are not capable of handling these courses.

This process of forcing all kids to take these college prep classes devalues lower achieving kids and even average kids. This humanity diminishing process coincides with our devaluing of American workers who don’t have college degrees. It’s an educational problem, but also a societal problem. We have become a country of educational snobs. We have accepted a new norm where if you’re not part of the 30 percent of college graduates in America, you have no value. The 70 percent of students who do not graduate from college have a right to an appropriate education, and the country must acknowledge it.

American leaders must stand up and dismiss the elitist educational concept of pushing all kids through college prep courses. Our leaders need to be proud of Americans who work in many different occupations. Skilled workers need to be respected by our leaders and then by our educational establishment. Specifically, school boards, superintendents, principals, vice principals, counselors, and teachers must learn to honor skilled workers in America. Only with this level of acceptance can the educational establishment with their newfound understanding of the work world begin to change our high schools to meet the desperate needs of low and average achieving students.

The first thing leaders in education must do is train all educational staff about careers in the real world. The reality is that many educators have never worked outside of teaching and counseling. They know little of careers outside of teaching. The second important item is to get rid of the college entrance course requirements for high school graduation. Counselors must be tasked to assure bright kids of all races are prepared for college. Similarly, counselors must be tasked with making sure that average and below average students are prepared to go to work. The role of the high school is to prepare both groups for their postsecondary lives. Today’s reality is American high schools do a fine job for the college prep student, but do very little for the average or low achieving kids to prepare them for the rest of their lives.

This change in mindset of high school educators must then transcend to expanding career academies. Career academies have a high graduation rate and all graduates have employable skills. The new underpinning philosophy for high school educators must become “all children have value.” Until educators accept this concept, they will continue to push the lower and average achieving kids out of high school. We can do better and our kids deserve better.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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