Category Archives: Tracking

The Fallacy of “Modified Courses” (1936)

LaBrant, L. (1936, May 13). The fallacy of “modified courses.” Educational Research Bulletin, 15(5), 141-143.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1472242

LaBrant challenges the narrow use of intelligence tests to track students.

Quoting LaBrant:

American secondary education was for many years open to the privileged few, and only recently have we conceived our high schools as the property of the entire adolescent group. This generally recognized fact is perhaps responsible for our persistence in thinking of secondary education as planned for the more able of our young people. Consequently, when we consider mental ability we mean ability to do academic work. Mental tests, developed on the assumption that certain academic experiences are common to the mass of individuals, reflect what have come to be thought of as basic high-school experiences. …Unfortunately this emphasis on the intelligence test as a device for elimination has tended to obscure rather than to clarify its values. Instead of studying the interests and abilities of pupils, we have classified children with an emphasis on lack of ability rather than possession of ability. (p. 141)

We have frequently in schools having so-called homogeneous grouping, talked of the high group as those who can do certain types of work, and of the low groups as those who are underprivileged, unable. All of this vocabulary has had its effect on our teaching. Disregarding the strong interests, and the actual abilities of a third or even a half of our children, we have considered instead their inability to do certain operations, and have attempted to provide substitutes. Now a substitute implies that the thing offered is less desirable than the object for which it is a substitute. In education the implication is that we teachers wish that the pupils could all do a certain type of work, but that, since unfortunately this is not so, we will do the best we can and provide something as nearly like as possible. (pp. 141-142)

The point is that the dull or average child has strong interests, and that they are not necessarily faint shadows of the interests of more scholarly children. They are real and individual, and deserve consideration on their own merits. (p. 142)

In A certain high school, for example, superior students study algebra and geometry to clarify the problems they meet in a study of the natural world about them. This seems reasonable and desirable. The students are curious about the scientific development of their age, and eager to investigate it. Mathematics plays a large part in this scientific world of today. But this same school offers to the duller students, just as eager to use and examine the inventions of their times, not additional work with wires and dynamos and batteries, but as a substitute for the algebra and mathematics which is involved in the technical study of the others, a review of arithmetic with more practice in figuring percentages and in multiplying and dividing. Numerous publishers are offering to schools modified editions of the classics-Dickens written down, Scott without his details of description, famous classics with the difficult words eliminated. Back of such offerings is not a study of the reading needs and interests of average children, but an ideal of copying the reading activities of better students. (pp. 142-143)

If educational practices are to produce active, thinking citizens, they must be based on the real needs of the children who are educated, not on shadows of the needs of a small group. Intelligence tests are useful, but only if they are considered as positive rather than negative. They must then be recognized as the limited measures which they are, and supplemented by information concerning the emotional equipment, the interests, skills, and abilities of the children. Visitors to many progressive schools fail to distinguish, in a class where work is largely individualized, the brilliant from the less intelligent children. All appear interested and intelligent, because they are using intelligence on problems meaningful to them. The teacher who complains that a low ability class is dull and uninterested is in all probability offering material which is chosen for values suitable to more gifted children. Interest is not the property of genius, as may be seen from watching dull to average children at their chosen sports. Let us have suitable courses, yes, but not modified ones. (p. 143)

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