The Potential Danger of Academic Expectations

As the summer days start to grow shorter, my mind is beginning to think about back to school and what that means for my children. As you are aware, I am the mother of a transgender child. Obviously, this fact in and of itself is cause for back-to-school angst. But today I want to focus on children in general. I want to look at one unintentional way educators and school leaders promote an environment that marginalizes groups of children. I want to have a conversation about ways we can make that better. So, my question is: 

Why are we setting the same academic expectations for all students? 

Let’s let this marinate for a moment. 

Each one of us is uniquely special in our own way. We have talents and strengths that when nurtured and developed, help us become our best selves. Sometimes, the focus is so grade and test score heavy, we forget that not every child shows what they know in that way. 

Do I think all children should work to the best of their ability? Of course. 

Do I value education? Undoubtedly. 

I just think that by having the same end goal, we unintentionally teach students that their personal best will never be enough and that they will never meet “the target.” By doing this, we are missing the best part of who they are because we are so hyperfocused on what they are not. 

Some of my children have a learning difference called dyslexia. My 12 year-old is considered Twice-Exceptional or 2e for simplicity. This highly intelligent child, with a working memory in the 1st percentile, is a marvel. When traditional academic standards were in place he vomited before school every night. He is a perfectionist and seeks approval from teachers. When his working memory fails him, it causes debilitating anxiety. He cannot remember the sequence of verbal instructions and believes he should be able to. He worries the teacher is going to say he is not paying attention when, in fact, he is likely the most focused child in the room.

Getting my dyslexic children the support and environment that they need was so challenging that we are now in a specialized school. They are thriving and have friends. My kids love to learn. They read interesting books and are becoming writers. They think critically and analyze information before taking a stand. My babies get the opportunity to grow and learn because someone decided to meet them where they are instead of pushing them to where some data algorithm thinks they should be. 

My kids have this privilege and I believe that it will help them be the best, most confident, assured version of themselves so they can go out into the world as adults who make a difference. 

But friends, what about those who do not have this privilege? Those who we give an end goal that they may never get to. What does this teach them about who they are as a person. Of their value and the importance of what they have to offer? I would like to open this up to dialogue. Please email me and share some of your thoughts on this type of experience. Together, we are better.