Is favoritism an issue in high schools today?

In January this year, a petition in Effingham, Ill., surfaced, singling out the high school’s vice principal and accusing him of belittling and harassing students. Regardless of the truth of the accusation, much of the discussion in the community revolved around the unequal treatment of students based on assumptions and class. It is the belief of the Navigator News that this inequality is present not only in Effingham, but in all schools, and the community and school district should work to prevent it.
We’ve all heard about wealthier, better-known students getting off the hook for certain violations, while his poorer counterpart receives full punishment. Obviously, every offense is different and should be punished accordingly, but it cannot be argued that students should get more lenience or harshness based on class. Finances could be partially behind this disparity. If a parent contributes money to the school, the school may be less willing to punish that parent’s child for fear of upsetting its donor. Therefore, higher-class students may be given warnings more often than punishments. They are also better-equipped financially to fight any legal implications, which just creates a headache for the school.
So, is it fair to say that lower-class students get punished more just because they’re an easier target? Probably not. In low-income families, divorce is more common. This stress can impact students greatly, and cause them to act out more. Students who are repeat offenders may be punished more severely than their counterparts with clean records, which makes sense. Though it’s valuable to consider a student’s past and home life, it is of the utmost importance to keep that knowledge from becoming an assumption about them. Not every poor student has a tragic home life, and not everyone with a bad past is doomed to continue on an ugly path.
So, if assumptions are to be put aside when deciding a fair punishment, they also must be put aside in the classroom. Many schools have an honors system, where advanced students are put into fast-paced, high-level classes. This is an opportunity for those who are willing and able to push themselves to earn an even better education. While this sounds like a good, logical idea on paper, it has an ugly downside. The problem with honors classes is that the schools put the majority of their focus on honors classes and tend to forget the “regular” classes. Though it’s expected that the honors kids would get more work due to their work ethic, the education of the non-honors students shouldn’t be compromised. Treating two students differently because that’s what helps them thrive is acceptable; treating those students differently out convenience isn’t. Students who choose to stay in regular classes shouldn’t be shorted when it comes to their education. While it may be easy to let less driven classes slack off, that shouldn’t be the reality. Not teaching those classes to the same standard of excellence is a disservice to the students’ education and should be avoided at all costs.
Most teachers in Illinois are overloaded and overwhelmed due to budget cuts thanks to Illinois’ lack of a budget. That’s understandable. It’s hard to invest in the lives of young people when your own life is uncertain. But, teachers’ investment is exactly what kids (especially underachieving kids) need. It’s true that advanced students are self-motivated. That makes them easy to teach. Truly good teachers are able to teach even those who don’t want to be taught. The best teachers are needed in the non-honors classes, thought they’re not often put there. The only thing most students need to succeed is a reason to care. A teacher taking the time to invest in a student, check in with them or even share a joke may be the boost they need to work harder. Again, many of the honors kids are self-driven. Many others have parents pushing them to succeed. Kids in the non-honors class may not have that drive or that positive push from home. Teachers should be willing to be that encouraging force. So many non-honors kids are labeled as hopeless and ignored. Those students are left disenchanted with the school system. Those who may have pursued further education may not if they were never encouraged or rewarded by the school system.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s very common to see upper- and middle-class students in honors classes, while it’s also common to see lower-class students in regular classes. Whether this is a case of correlation or causation, we cannot say.
Finally, one last divide between the socioeconomic classes is the distribution of scholarships. It’s disheartening to see, in the newspaper and at honors nights, that many scholarships are distributed to students who are financially well-off already. It’s easy to feel cheated, seeing thousands of dollars go to kids whose parents are more than willing to pay their tuition out-of-pocket. But, the one important factor that many fail to remember is financial aid. It isn’t presented as a reward. There’s no ceremony to recognize its recipients. But, many lower-class students receive financial aid. This is an opportunity that upper-class students don’t have access to because of their parents incomes. Instead, these kids usually have to turn to private loans, which carry a higher interest rate than the federal loans available to those with lower incomes.
At the end of the day, inequality in high schools will probably always be present. For some, it is a source of rage. For others, it is a sense of accomplishment. But, many don’t even notice its presence. If there is a solution, it is that students should always be treated based on their merits, never their class, and that no student or group of students should be left behind as a lesser group. The best way to combat the disparity is to acknowledge it and start an open discussion in each school on how to avoid it.
The good news is that this separation goes away in college. In a bigger place, where you set and strive for your own goals, you’re just one of the crowd. Your education is what you make it here.

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