Heterogeneous grouping and democracy

The Monitor found a Long Island high school with an unusual policy--no ability grouping of students in social studies or English classes--and asked its principal to comment on whether having such a wide range of academic abilities in the same class (called ''heterogeneous grouping'') is at all related to teaching and learning about democracy.

The principal, Normal Bussiere of Shoreham-Wading River (N.Y.) High School, offered the following: ''If by democracy you mean bringing people together with different backgrounds, mental abilities, opinions, feelings, and behaviors, then I believe the answer is yes.

''High schools segregate not only on the basis of ability and performance but on the basis of grade and age. The grouping of students (in each discipline) often does more to separate students from one another than almost anything else we do. Such practices may be educationally sound, although the research is ambivalent and ambiguous about this.

''Social studies deals with ideas, values, and behavior, and I presume there is no student whose ideas, values, and behavior are the same as another.

''But if they cannot present them to each other in some kind of dialogue or forum, then how do they gain any breadth of understanding and respect for different points of view? And how do they practice discourse and consensus?

''The views of the less bright are as relevant as the views of the bright; at least that's the theory in a democratic society.''

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