Book by Charles Hargis
Review by Renee’ Ryan
Academic Advisor-Department of Building Construction
College of Architecture and Urban Studies
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg VA
Teaching low achieving and disadvantaged students requires understanding and a specific skill set from an educator. In the same vein, advising low achieving and disadvantaged students requires a specific skill set from an advisor. While the primary audience of Hargis’s book may be the quintessential school teacher who grabs the book to better understand the dynamics of her classroom, there is much within to interest those who advise the probation and at-risk students once they reach the realm of higher education. It is misguided to think that all students enter college with a level playing field. Giving incoming students a college ID does not make them equal. It is only by understanding where the students are coming from that we can help them get to where they need to go. Teaching Low Achieving and Disadvantaged Students is a resource that takes age-old arguments of what is not working with standard educational practices and suggests some radical solutions to overcome the deficiencies.
Hargis views the lock-step curriculum (all students moving through in one accordance) and its companion, the grading system, as causing the majority of our dropouts and leading to an increase in learning disabilities among our students. He categorizes these two groups as curriculum casualties and recommends assigning curricula to students rather than grade level. Hargis additionally advocates abandoning the grading system and judging the achievement progress from the level at which each student begins, not against arbitrary standards. This is the point in the book where one might be inclined to stop reading, yet Hargis offers valid arguments as to why the distribution of grades in the classroom is not an actual measurement. Throughout the book the author describes instructional levels and independent levels, emphasizing that success is achieved by finding the place on the curriculum for each student at these levels. Permitting students to enter school when they are ready instead of when they are old enough and allowing students to move up through the curriculum at their own pace is not an easy idea to sell to educators. And while Hargis gives much to think about, the text is the result of the author’s role in working with curriculum casualty students as well as his progress in helping to develop a successful alternative public high school. In-depth studies of the success of his objectives are not made available to the reader.
This will not be a well-thumbed advising manual that you will refer to time after time. But it does serve to remind us that we must meet students where they are academically and by understanding the systemic school environment of which they come to us is a first step. If I had limited funds to spend on my advising library, and most of us do, then this would not be an investment that I would recommend. If this book finds it your hands however, it is definitely worth reading.
Teaching Low Achieving and Disadvantaged Students (third edition). (2006). Book by Charles H Hargis. Review by Renee Ryan. Charles C. Thomas. 182 pp., $38.95, (Paperback), ISBN # 978-0-398-07646-7