Another argument swirling around these days is that it is a disservice to children to educate them in “batches.” Meaning, people argue that we shouldn’t group them in grades by age, but we should focus on their abilities. There are some strong arguments in favour of this and I invite people to detail them below; perhaps you will persuade me. Currently, however, I think the idea is flawed and harmful to children.
I think it is beneficial and appropriate to group children by age in school. Schools serve as their primary vehicle to socialize and be socialized. They should primarily be part of a peer group at more or less the same stage of development (not necessarily ability). They learn about friendships and other relationships at school as much as they do about the curriculum. I think the development of these skills will be hampered if we are constantly re-ordering them as their skill sets grow at different rates. I also thing it creates other problems like: should an advanced 5 year old be partners with a 13 year old who is struggling especially in such things as health class or gym?
This brings me to my second point: consider those children who are struggling. People tend to focus on children who are being held back and who’s skills are more advanced in the argument for ordering be ability; however, we should be equally cognizant of the struggling student. By organizing them by level s/he is de facto failing. S/he sees his/her age cohort, his/her peers, continue to advance and drift away while s/he struggles with younger and younger students. This reality must be considered because implicit into the argument of arranging by ability is that students will grow at different rates (some slower), if not, then organization by age would be adequate. We stopped failing students because we started to value the whole child; we started to realize the damage we were doing to an individual by holding them back. The proposal of organizing by abilities seems to be a step backwards in this regards
Finally, and the part of it that bothers me the most: By focusing on ability rather then by social peer group, age, or the whole child, we are visiting on our children a harmful practice that we usually reserve for adults. Students become their ability. This is analogous to adults being evaluated/ranked by their job. We measure the worth of a child by their ability, not human dignity, or peer group, or stage of life. The pressure to excel, to out preform, to rank each other by their relative success in school is visiting the worse elements of the ‘rat race’ on the most fragile members of our society. This really upsets me: I would much rather people see my son as a 6 year old and not as a good reader who needs to be moved up and challenged and who needs to struggle (“don’t worry, you’ll make lots of 11 and 12 year old friends in your new class”). I especially want people to see my autistic 3 year old as a child who should socialize with other children and not as a struggling reader who needs to be left behind the more advanced and promising students…doesn’t every parent?