Take a second and imagine a student identified as Gifted and Talented. Take another second. Regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or other influences on the image that may vary from person to person, the average beneficiary of Kentucky schools images an elementary student. As inherently logical as this image may be, it is far from the whole story. Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) policy doesn’t just disappear after fifth grade, for by Kentucky law 704 KAR 3:285, it continues through the 12th grade. So why the misconception? The very purpose of GATE is to separate students based on their ability in order to allocate resources necessary to their success more efficiently and continue to engage the achieving students beyond general curriculum. This approach to education is at the core foundation of the typical public high school and is arguably the most overlooked influence on a student’s overall school career, thus, awareness of the impact of this ideology on students learning must be improved.
Schools execute this legislation in the higher grades most commonly through “Various acceleration options,” and “AP and honors courses,” which are two central necessities for a high school student’s success in learning and applying competitively to college. As the growing number of college attendees rises, the level of academic rigor—not only to set students apart—but to prepare them for college admission and scholarships rises. It is no longer enough to be at the “high school level” in high school.
Unfortunately, as this high standard for college and the influence of college on student’s futures rises, the academic level and learning environment crumbles in general classes. Not only do students feel pressured to take advanced classes out of necessity to secure a future, many students avoid being in general classes because of issues unrelated to the curriculum, such as behavioral disruptions and the learning environment. Luis Santiago, a sophomore from Jessamine County, explains his apprehensions towards general classes, “I don’t want to surround myself with a negative influence, or I don’t want to be around those kinds of people who have the wrong mindset in life. Like going around saying- hey, I want to do drugs. I don’t care about school. I want to drop out.” Much like Santiago a junior from Washington County, Emily Cox, parallels with, “If you want to try, take these classes. If you don’t want to try, then take these. It’s kind of a stereotype…” While there are exceptions to this view of general classes, any students in them who want to participate and work hard have to overcome the overwhelming negative attitudes and peer pressure around them.
Going against this social influence can be done, but it puts even more strain on students. Parker Tussey, a sophomore from Jessamine county, demonstrates this issue,”Freshman year everyone has to take health and physical education their first year. Two different types of students, general and AP, all have to take it together and I could definitely tell a difference in the type of classroom environment. Because general students don’t have as much drive or interest in the class as AP students do, which dragged me down, because I just wanted to be at the same level as all of the other students in the class. But if a Gen-Ed student was put in an AP class, they would also want to do as well as their peers.” It’s psychological principle —no one likes going against the majority, see Solomon Asch’s Experiment from 1951. When this principle is applied to a system where the two social norms are different, it will polarize the population to the extremes both leading students to very different futures.
This conformity to the surrounding students must be addressed in GATE to stop dividing high schools into essentially two schools with different teaching styles, expectations, and classroom environments in one building, for these factors make or break a student’s education. Especially at a time when public opinion and social dynamics are so influential to students. Bailee King, a sophomore, explains “I feel like general classes, they can bring you down a little bit because you’re around a bunch of people who don’t try, so it kinda rubs off on you. You’re like no one else is trying.” We as a human race, country, and state are at a point, like much of the rest of history, where we can not afford to have anyone not trying. We can not afford the apathy that’s spreading through our schools and then growing into our work force.