1972.10.01: Keeping Track (Red Tide)

Keeping Track (Red Tide)

Red Tide, Vol. 2, No. 2 [Issue #6]
October 1972

Keeping Track
[By Michael Letwin and Karen Pomer]

Tracking is a system which determines what kind of education people will get in school according to their race, sex and social-economic class in accordance with what occupations are currently in need of personnel, despite where your interests lie. Tracking in the schools is one of the biggest ways that our society has of maintaining our present system of distribution of jobs.

Since very few people know what tracking is and very few people know how much it has and will affect peoples futures, in the next few issues, we will be running a detailed series on tracking, how it works and its purpose.

In this issue we will give a general introduction to what tracking. In future articles we hope to go into some specific examples and more detail.

A mechanism is required to control the flow of woman and manpower to fill specific “needs” of the capitalist economic system. This society “needs” people to fill different jobs, mostly workers, and a few professionals and businessmen. This mechanism is called channeling or tracking. Not all of this is a conscious effort on the part of individuals, but rather tracking is built into the system.

Assigned to different tracks by school measured “intelligence,” social characteristics, and teacher recommendations, students find that early in their school lives, they are slotted for their future work roles. As an example of this, do you remember when we were in junior hi, and the girls had to take cooking and the boys shop? The boys were channeled into one kind of role, and the girls into another.

This is set up to maintain the present American family system, where girls are supposed to be mothers, and house wives and the boys to be working men. This process is not always so obvious. 10-year-old girls interested in chemistry or how the body works may be encouraged to become nurses, while the boys with the same interests will be told to become doctors. This is an example of sex tracking. A girl student is confronted with the low expectations this society has for her by her teachers’ attitudes, the curriculum. The books she reads, the ads she sees on television or in her mother’s magazines.

The lower tracks (i.e. shops, “low” level math, English, history etc.) are populated with poor students, white, Asian, black and Chicano working class people. In L.A. these kinds of schools are Roosevelt, Jordon, Garfield, Dorsey, etc. The upper tracks, the college bound “honors” tracks, are filled with children of the white middle and upper middle class, sprinkled with a few token exceptions. Schools like this are University, Palisades, Beverly and Grant, etc.

So while maintaining and continuing the economic, profit-motivated structure, the existence of tracks encourages false belief in the myth of “educational mobility.” Students think that you’re smart if you’re in advance placement tracks, stupid if you’re in lower tracks, while in reality your education depends on corporate needs.

Black, brown, Asian and most white working class youth often understand that schools do nothing more than keep them off the street until they can move them into poorly paid, non-secure jobs, that schools are mere waiting rooms for factories, restaurants, hospitals, the army (for some), and generally for middle class women students, a life of boredom and servitude as housewives and mothers.

The way tracking is structured makes people feel dumb and smart according to what kind of tracks they’re in. It’s no wonder that working people often score lower on tests than middle and upper class people. If you’re going to work in a factory, you don’t get an education equal to a person who’s going on to college, and to be a professional or executive. For if you did, if you were exposed to all kinds of ideas, you might not as easily accept an existence which is boring, underpaid, gives little gratification, and which is run for profit. This is why it is much easier to express your views freely on a middle class campus than it is on a working class campus.

The schools tell us that anyone can be as “successful” as anyone else. All it takes is “education.” But as we have seen not everyone has equal access to education, and most people don’t have the finances to go to college. Capitalist society has to track people into their predetermined jobs and not everyone can move up. Most people in this society have to be workers.

They tell us that if only we would at least finish school, we would get good jobs. What if every kid stayed in hi school what if nobody dropped out? Would the number of short order cooks at A&W, chicken breaders at Kentucky Fried, box boys at Ralphs and factory jobs at General Motors decrease?

Ultimately the myth of “upward mobility” implies that these jobs will disappear if everyone graduated from hi school. If we all went on to college, we would have a Society where everyone was a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or business executive. Nobody would have to run a punch press, or harvest lettuce. Absurd! If everyone stayed in school, what mechanism would neatly choose those most qualified for the better job?

We will show in the next few articles in this series that students are effectively assigned to reading groups, special classes and special schools on the basis of income, race and sex. Yet there is a complex mechanism [that] persuades these involved (teachers as well as students and parents) that the assignments are made on the basis of “un-ability.” Tracking is the “American or indirect” way of assigning occupational roles through manipulation of the school system of this country.

Our next article will deal with how tracking works.

Sources and Suggested Reading

1. New University Papers #3, copyright 1971 (article on grading and tracking by Kay Trimberger)

2. Down the Up Staircase, Tracking the Schools, by Richard Rothstein for the Teachers Organizing Project of New University Conference, copyright 1971 by N.U.C.

3. Degrading Education, by Robert Klawitter, Indiana U. N.U.C.

4. Classes and Schools, A Radical Definition for Teachers, 1971 by N.U.C.

New University Conference
662 West Diversity Parkway Rm. 403
Chicago Ill. 60614


[Historical Note: The Red Tide was a revolutionary high school underground newspaper and youth organization that existed from 1971-1981. See: http://theredtide.wordpress.com/]




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