Tuesday, May 10, 2022


    Regarding stigma, these two realities about children and childhood must be recognized: First, adults do not have the option of concealing the truth. Kids know, no matter what. When children of widely varying abilities are mixed in classes, their differences are highlighted, not obscured. If the teacher calls on the children equally, then the deficits of the slower children are put on display for all their classmates to see. If the teacher calls only on the brighter children who know the answers, the kids quickly figure out what is going on. Children understand that academic ability varies and know the intellectual pecking order in every classroom. The slower children will get labeled whether or not they are grouped. It will be hurtful to them, to varying degrees. Educators do not have the option of preventing that hurt.

    What educators can do is put the relationship of performance in the classroom and merit as a person into perspective. People who are academically gifted can be fickle, humorless, dishonest, and cowardly. People who are not academically gifted can be steadfast, funny, honest, and brave. Merit as a person and academic ability are different things.

    The second reality is that every child is miserable about some personal defect. It is part of being a child. The things that make children most miserable are likely to involve shortcomings in interpersonal ability—not being one of the popular kids. Many of the sources of pain come from physical appearance—having acne, being too short, being too tall, being fat, being skinny, wearing thick glasses. Poor performance in the classroom is just one of a long list of things that make children cry into their pillows at night. It is not even close to the top of the list. Performing poorly in the classroom is not a big deal socially. Performing conspicuously well is often a social liability.

    I will spend no time on the argument that special treatment of the academically gifted is elitist. It has no moral standing. A special ability is a child’s most precious asset. When it comes to athletic and musical ability, no one considers withholding training that could realize those gifts. It is just as senseless, and as ethically warped, to withhold training that can realize academic ability.  


Charles Murray, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality. [2009] The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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