Educators Baffled by Stubborn Achievement GapMichael J. Polignano
January 30, 2005
This satirical story is from Michael Polignano’s book Taking Our Own Side, available in a limited, signed and personalized hardcover edition here.
The recent release of national SAT testing data brought surprise and disappointment across the nation as the achievement gap between so-called “normal” students and Differently Intelligent (DI) students failed to narrow yet again, in spite of another set of costly federal initiatives directed at closing the gap. The average SAT score for “normal” students is 1,020. The average SAT score for DI students is 610.
The poor scholastic achievement of DI students was once attributed to unalterable congenital or acquired brain defects. DI students were once cruelly stigmatized as “stupid,” “subnormal,” “imbeciles,” “idiots,” “slow,” and even “mentally retarded.” But according to Harvard biologist Stephen Goldfinger:
The idea that Children of Difference suffer from unalterable brain defects was the last bastion of racism. After all, such views were used by the Nazis to justify the mass murder of the Differently Intelligent. Differently Intelligent children are just as good as any other children. The failure to appreciate this is merely a form of intellectual racism. If Differently Intelligent children don’t measure up, then it is time to change the yardstick.
In 1980, however, things began to change for the DI when Harvard lawyer Ari Wiesel founded the now somewhat anachronistically named National Association for the Advancement of Retarded People. The NAARP threw itself into intense lobbying on behalf of DI people. They were aided in their consciousness-raising efforts by Hollywood and the television industry, including such Oscar-winning movies as Forrest Gump, Sling Blade, I Am Sam, and, especially, Shawn starring Brad Pitt as a young man whose Down’s Syndrome enabled him to defeat a plot by evil Scandinavian eugenicists to exterminate everyone not fit to become part of a so-called “smarter” race.
By 1999, the NAARP had secured the passage of a whole series of important bills. There was the Lieberman Bill, which gave the DI the right to vote; the Wellstone Bill, which gave them the right to drive; the Feinstein Bill, which gave them the right to buy guns; the Schumer Bill, which gave them the right to adopt children; and, most importantly, the Equalization of Opportunity Act, which declared that “retarded” people are just as good as “normal” people, only “different”; the EOA also outlawed discrimination on the grounds of intelligence and mandated that governments, employers, and educational institutions treat the Differently Intelligent the same as anyone else, and give them special consideration in hiring and promotion, in view of the discrimination they have suffered in the past.
“Thanks to the Equalization of Opportunity Act, now every little boy and girl can dream of growing up to be President,” said Bill Clinton, as he signed the bill into law, surrounded by beaming Down’s Syndrome children and clinging microcephalics. Giddy with success, the NAARP declared January 1, 2000 the beginning of the “Millennium of the Differently Intelligent.”
Schools around the nation immediately went to work integrating DI and “normal” students. Demeaning “special education” programs were abolished. DI students were placed in the same classrooms as “normal” students. Federally mandated “affirmative education” programs gave DI students extra help to overcome the legacy of discrimination. Lavish federal funding made it possible for each DI child to have a personal tutor. Meanwhile, so-called “normal” students devoted part of every school day to tolerance and diversity curricula designed to uncover and eliminate the archaic and hurtful intellectual prejudices that are judged the main reason why the Differently Intelligent did not perform the same as all the rest.
In spite of these efforts, the average SAT score for DI students has remained 610 since tests were first administered. The only narrowing of the gap comes from the steady decrease of the average scores of “normal” students by about ten points per year. According to Shelly Zyporen, spokesman for Education Secretary Meeks Ryan:
This trend is merely temporary—the entirely foreseen side-effect of the great strides we have made in integrating Differently Intelligent students into mainstream classrooms. It is a pity that SATs cannot measure the enrichment that so-called “normal” students have received from the intellectual diversity provided by the Differently Intelligent students in their classrooms.
“Naturally, I am disappointed with the latest SAT results,” says Shulamith Ratner, the Media Director of the NAARP:
But the Children of Difference have not failed. The System has failed. These children are not retarded. The System is retarded by prejudice and bigotry. The Differently Intelligent are prisoners of society’s lower expectations. But five years is not enough time to undo millennia of prejudice and bigotry. Fifty billion dollars is not enough money to ensure that the Differently Intelligent perform the same as everybody else. We need the federal government to commit sufficient funds for at least a generation of concerted effort to change perceptions of the Differently Intelligent. If we change our perceptions, we will change their reality.
Tylenol Washington is a DI student in Oakland. Today is a big day. He is taking his SAT. He is obviously nervous. He is pulling on his left earlobe and rocking violently back in forth in his chair. There are beads of sweat on his forehead. He hums loudly, makes spluttering noises when he is confused, and occasionally blurts out “I’m a man!” Other students seem distracted and shoot him angry glances. But intolerance is forbidden, so none of them complain. After a while, Tylenol is the only student in the testing room. He gets extra time to finish, and he is making the best of it.
Tylenol has just learned that his SAT score is 490. His face beams with pride. But when he sees the circle of grim-faced teachers around him, he slumps forward on his desk, burying his head in his hands, his body wracked by muffled sobs. “He would have received a score of 500 if he simply put his name on it and handed it in blank,” says Douglas Strafer of the Educational Testing Service. Tylenol’s mother Joretta knows why her son was not informed of this: “President Bush has failed my child. The Republicans, they have slashed our funding and gutted our programs out.”
President Bush disputed this through his Press Secretary Dick Zwigoff:
When we say “no child left behind” we mean it. More than any other President, Mr. Bush deeply deplores intellectualist prejudices against the DI. The Bush administration has spent more than $40 billion on DI educational initiatives. We are proud to announce that spending on DI students is now 100 times higher than spending on so called “gifted and talented” students. The difference between our Republican philosophy and the Democratic approach is that we encourage greater involvement in DI education by the private sector and communities of faith, which will bring even more resources to advancing the Children of Difference.
According to Aaron Liehr, Educational Program Director for the NAARP, testing methodologies are also to blame:
The Differently Intelligent really are different. So of course their test scores will be different too. But intelligence is a multifaceted phenomenon. There is more to it than just learning facts and solving problems. For instance, the ability to forget is a feature of every healthy mind. Sometimes we need to just let go of past experiences and get over it. But the SATs test only our ability to remember. If they also gave people points for forgetting, I’m betting the achievement gap would be considerably narrowed.
Mr. Liehr made his remarks at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where he inaugurated a memorial to the DI victims of Nazi genocide.
Adam Cohen, the NAARP’s Legal Director, held a press conference in Washington D.C. after the SAT scores were announced. According to Mr. Cohen:
It is not enough to eliminate all overt and conscious expressions of intellectual prejudice. We must also work to eliminate all unconscious forms of prejudice as well. As long as the DI do not achieve parity, we know that unconscious forms of prejudice must be at work.
Mr. Cohen was somewhat less receptive to another explanation for lack of progress. Mr. Cohen sighed audibly and rolled his eyes as a Differently Intelligent man in the audience laboriously asked why the NAARP itself is entirely staffed by non-DI individuals. “Yes,” Mr. Cohen replied, “it is shameful. Look at us. All of us are White, Ivy-League educated lawyers.”
The NAARP was founded and staffed by the law firm of Wiesel, Wiener, Liehr, Ratner, and Cohen (Ari Wiesel, JD, Harvard, SAT 1560; Barry Wiener, JD, Yale, SAT 1470; Aaron Liehr, JD, Harvard, SAT 1510; Shulamith Ratner, JD, Harvard, SAT 1520; and Adam Cohen, JD, Yale, SAT 1420). (Mr. Wiener returned to private practice in 1999 after the passage of the Equalization of Opportunity Act and has won multi-billion dollar settlements in class action suits on behalf of DI individuals.)
His eyes growing moist, Mr. Cohen continued:
But we are committed to filling the next opening for a leadership position with a DI person, and we are proceeding with all due speed to recruit suitable candidates. I am sure that the NAARP will be a much more effective advocacy group once it is entirely staffed by DI individuals. That is the dream of everyone here. I know that I will live to see that day.
Mr. Cohen added that, “The bad news about SAT scores should not overshadow today’s good news. After an intensive recruitment drive and a creative retooling of its training program, Delta Airlines has just hired its first Differently Intelligent pilot.”