By Chris Barts
People need friends, especially during the teenage years. Friends, and even just being among people the same age, help maintain self-esteem, emotional health, and reduce stress. They are truly important to as social a species as humans are. But neither friends nor self-esteem should be responsible for a person's educational future.
The concept being discussed here is what is called social promotion. That refers to advancing a student in grade level simply because of a student's age. This is done for a variety of reasons, be it from the teachers not being too happy about seeing the student again next year or the student's self-esteem supposedly being hurt by his being back. Those reasons, and the others used in defense of this old practice, have little real relevance to educating the child, but simply serve to move that child along, like a piece of metal is moved along an assembly line. As has been said before in these columns, schools and assembly lines are two very different places.
The main harm done is that the student is not being taught key concepts. Simply shoving the student through school does him no good, as he never truly picks up what his peers, who presumably have the ability to graduate from grade to grade based upon their own merits, already know and can apply. This is a reprehensible outcome. It is actively harming the student, not only intellectually because of the reasons just mentioned, but emotionally as well.
Imagine the student's position. He is being kept with his peers, which seems good, as he can keep his friends, but he's finding the divide between him and his friends ever-growing at the increasingly important intellectual level. He is getting known as the "dumb kid," not for his self-esteem. And his teachers, seeing how little his previous teachers have been able to help him in the space of only one year, give up on him, essentially ignoring the one who needs the most attention, because they know they'll never be able to teach him multiple years' worth of information in just one year. All this is devastating for the poor student, and all of this could have been prevented if social promotion were just done away with.
The only solution is keeping a student at a level until he has mastered all of the concepts needed to advance. Then, and only then, can the student advance. If the traditional school environment is not helping the student, there exist alternative environments that could cater more to his needs. Alternatively, a student could be moved up ahead of his peers, helping his intellect and self-esteem.
All of these solutions would be greatly facilitated by a block-scheduling system, to provide time, and a concept-mastery-based grade system, to provide a yardstick, both concepts discussed in these columns earlier. But these advances are not essential to the doing away with of social promotion. In fact, doing away with social promotion would help many others advance.