Does Dividing Students By Age Make Any Sense at All?

The tradition is being challenged by the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Massachusetts.

Annie Holmquist | May 10, 2017

The tradition is being challenged by the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Massachusetts.

Have you ever wondered why students are always separated in classrooms according to age?

If you think about it, such a practice runs in direct contradiction to everything else in life. The children in a family often come in stairstep fashion, with a set of twins or triplets being a rare occurrence. Likewise, the workplace is composed of a wide range of ages. But not in the classroom.

As The Atlantic reports, that tradition is being challenged by the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School. The charter school offers grades 7 through 12, but groups them in classes of two grade levels. Such an arrangement fosters better relationships between students, enables the older to help the younger, and provides “struggling students [with] enough time to master material.”

Commenting on the trend, education expert Diane Friedlaender ponders:

“It is hard to understand why schools have such a rigid adherence to that structure and don’t think about child development at all.”

Former New York Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto offers some insight on that point. As Gatto notes in his book, Dumbing Us Down, age segregation is one of the many ways in which the school system fosters confusion in children, and gradually causes them to lose interest in learning as a whole:

“I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing them down. Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children’s power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.”

Gatto fleshes out this theory in another essay:

“Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole.”

Do you think Gatto is right? Have the alleged divide-and-conquer methods of the public education system come back to bite us by producing students who can’t think or function for themselves?

Image Credit: David Shankbone (cropped) bit.ly/1p2b8Ke



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