Written by Rebecca Chhay
In Theory of Knowledge last year, we took a field trip to see the latest movie about education, Waiting for Superman. In the film, there was an animated clip of a factory that illustrated the track system in education. In the track system, students are sorted off into tracks based on their abilities.
I’ve been in a track system before. I didn’t realize it was called that, but at Roosevelt that was what we had. Two completely different sets of teachers separated the tracks, and it didn’t matter if you were stellar in one subject but you couldn’t deal with another; you were generally put (or later transferred) into the easiest track possible.
We were taught to take pride in our tracks, in the labels the administration stuck on us. In seventh grade, I was part of “Adventure 7”, which sounds nice at first but that effect diminishes after you realize it’s a form of segregation. It didn’t stop there. In our tracks, we had our sub-tracks. For Adventure 7, that meant we GATE students were separated from the seminar students.
Occasionally, when a seminar student was absent, and he or she took a make-up a test in my class, I would hear the inevitable remark about how much “crazier” and remarkably “different” my class was (as I sat next to the empty table in one of my classes, and thus was the recipient of all comments).
The comments puzzled me for a great deal of time. I didn't understand as to why there would be such a difference. We had the same teachers, and the seminar students were just as ethnically diverse, etc. And in fact, I would probably still be puzzled if my 8th grade history teacher didn't insist on switching me to the seminar class even though I didn't have the proper Raven test score for it. The only noticeable difference I could discern after the switch was the fact that these seminar kids knew that the expectation, given their shiny “seminar” label, was that they were going to do all the work and be geniuses. Maybe not everyone in there was a genius, but each student definitely did all the work.
Is the power of labels really so great?
In high school, we don’t have “Adventure 7”, “GATE”, or “seminar”. Instead, at San Diego High, I am reduced to the label of an “I.S. student”. I don’t deny its accuracy, but I protest at the one-label-fits-over 500 idea.
I have a background, a future, and aspirations. I am so much more than an I.S. student; so much more than a label.