One Size Fits All? Some?

I just read @CrudBasher’s post: The Learning Equation and began to think about a particular statement he made,

I think the goal of education should be to develop every child’s gifts and aptitudes to their furthest potential. As all children have different gifts they will all turn out differently.”

I agree wholeheartedly with what Andrew says and think that most teachers would as well. What I’m wondering is what the stakeholders in the school districts have to say is their goal for students. Because, when you look around at the classrooms that are still set up the same way they were 25 and 50 years ago, and you look at the standardized tests and the information that is deemed “necessary”* for people who want to be educated, it would seem to be that there is a disconnect between what is written, what is expected, and what is actually happening.

Here is what I mean: now, I have not actually asked superintendents of schools what their goals are for the students in their district, but I’m guessing that they have a mission to educate all children. But educate according to the standards set forth by the state. What I am confused about is the one size fits all curriculum that is then enforced (for lack of a better word). What Andrew and then Salman Khan in his video (embedded in Barras’ post) say is that even though the students are all in school for the same amount of time (give or take), some achieve better than others. Everyone is taught the same things, but not everyone comes out on top. So it is obvious that the one size fits all approach is not working.

In his comparison of education of the past (even present) and his vision of education 20 years from now, Khan said that students go to school for a fixed time from K-12, then some add 4 years for college. At that point, “you are 22, now you will not go to school anymore.” The learning is done. Andrew said something similar in his post titled Education Reform is About Time:

“Even if you factor in high school and college, you still had to be done by the time you were 22 or so.”

Schooling as it has been historically, has been about going to school from a certain age, being in classrooms with children of the same age, learning what is supposed to be taught (if one wants to be educated), and then moving out to the working world. It is no wonder that I have heard kids say they can’t wait to be finished with school. I even said it myself at one time (we’re talking many years ago while still in high school–now there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not looking to learn more).

When students are not taught material they are interested in, or are allowed to pursue their own passions, why shouldn’t they want to just be finished with school? The school is being done to them. For some, the achievers, it’s ok, they still achieve. But what about the children who learn differently, who are not motivated? What happens to them? They are in school the same amount of time (give or take) as the achievers, but they do not achieve.

And so this is where technology comes in. And differentiation. And sharing learning with others. Because it is technology which will allow for “customization” as Barras says, and “credentials” as Khan says in his video. Technology will allow us to change the question from, “what did you earn in school” (GPA), to “what did you contribute to society?”

photo credit: Derek K. Miller via photo pin cc

* Seth Godin defined “necessary” so clearly in his book, Stop Stealing Dreams when he said

For a long time, there was an overlap between the education that the professions rewarded and the education that we might imagine an educated person would benefit from. 

Collection of Quotes Part 2 from Stop Stealing Dreams

So as not to overwhelm anyone with too long a post, I have divided my collection of quotes from Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams into two parts. I for one can only read so much at a time and would not want anyone to cut out from reading too early. So, here are the rest of the passages and quotes that I found thought-provoking.

Section 46: I am wondering when we decided that the purpose of school was to cram as much data/trivia/fact into every student as we possibly could.

We’re not only avoiding issues of practicality and projects and hands-on use of information; we’re also aggressively testing for trivia.

Section 47: Then, though, as we got smarter about the structure of thought, we created syllabi that actually covered the knowledge that mattered.

But mattered to whom?

Section 64: The industrial model of school is organized around exposing students to ever increasing amounts of stuff and then testing them on it.

Almost none of it is spent in teaching them the skills necessary to connect dots.

Section 65: The notion that each of us can assemble a network (of people, of data sources, of experiences) that will make us either smart or stupid—that’s brand new and important.

What is the typical school doing to teach our students to become good at this?

Section 70: What’s the point of testing someone’s ability to cram for a test if we’re never going to have to cram for anything ever again?

In an open-book/open-note environment, the ability to synthesize complex ideas and to invent new concepts is far more useful than drill and practice. It might be harder (at first) to write tests, and it might be harder to grade them, but the goal of school isn’t to make the educational-industrial complex easy to run; it’s to create a better generation of workers and citizens.

Section 71: Lectures at night, homework during the day

The next day at school, teachers can do what they want to do anyway—coach and help students in places they are stuck. In a school like this, the notion that every student will have to be in sync and watch the same (live!) lecture at the same time will become absurd.

Section 72: What we can’t do, though, is digitize passion. We can’t force the student to want to poke around and discover new insights online.

Without school to establish the foundation and push and pull and our students, the biggest digital library in the world is useless.

Section 73: When students can get patient, hands-on, step-by-step help in the work they’re doing, they learn more.

Section 74: The role of the teacher in this new setting is to inspire, to intervene, and to raise up the motivated but stuck student. Instead of punishing great teachers with precise instructions on how to spend their day, we give them the freedom to actually teach.

Section 77: The lesson to the kids is obvious: early advantages now lead to bigger advantages later. Skill now is rewarded, dreams, not so much. If you’re not already great, don’t bother showing up.

Section 82: School serves a real function when it activates a passion for lifelong learning, not when it establishes permanent boundaries for an elite class.

Section 83: Your work is worth more than mere congruence to an answer key

Fitting in is a short-term strategy, standing out pays off in the long run

Section 84: Teach kids how to lead

Help them learn how to solve interesting problems

as the world changes ever faster, we don’t reward people who can slavishly follow yesterday’s instructions. All of the value to the individual (and to the society she belongs to) goes to the individual who can draw a new map, who can solve a problem that didn’t even exist yesterday.

Section 85: once someone becomes passionate about a goal, she will stop at nothing to learn what she needs to learn to accomplish it.

Section 90: When we associate reading with homework and tests, is it any wonder we avoid it?

If you want to teach kids to love being smart, you must teach them to love to read.

Section 97: If the training we give people in public school or college is designed to help them memorize something that someone else could look up, it’s time wasted.

Section 100: real music education involves teaching students how to hear and how to perform from the heart

Section 101: Real learning happens when the student wants (insists!) on acquiring a skill in order to accomplish a goal.

Section 102: When access to information was limited, we needed to load students up with facts. Now, when we have no scarcity of facts or the access to them, we need to load them up with understanding.

Section 104: Real learning happens in bursts, and often those bursts occur in places or situations that are out of the ordinary.

Practice works because practice gives us a chance to relax enough to make smart choices.

Section 108: School as the transference of emotion and culture

One thing a student can’t possibly learn from a video lecture is that the teacher cares . . .about him

Section 113: Is the memorization and drill and practice of advanced math the best way to sell kids on becoming scientists and engineers?

Section 114: Just wondering: what would happen to our culture if students spent 40 percent of their time pursuing interesting discoveries and exciting growth opportunities, and only 60 percent of the day absorbing facts that used to be important to know?

Collection of Quotes from Stop Stealing Dreams Part 1


I have been reading Seth Godin’s manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and wanted to share what I thought were provocative and meaningful quotes.

Section 3: Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. 
Section 4The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake: We spend a fortune teaching trigonometry to kids who don’t understand it, won’t use it, and will spend no more of their lives studying math. We invest thousands of hours exposing millions of students to fiction and literature, but end up training most of them to never again read for fun 

As soon as we associate reading a book with taking a test, we’ve missed the point.

Section 6School reform cannot succeed if it focuses on getting schools to do a better job of what we previously asked them to do.

Section 7: workplace and civil society demand variety, the industrialized school system works to stamp it out.

The normal school (now called a teacher’s college) was developed to indoctrinate teachers into the system of the common school, ensuring that there would be a coherent approach to the processing of students

Section 8For a long time, there was an overlap between the education that the professions rewarded and the education that we might imagine an educated person would benefit from. Tied up in both paths is the notion that memorizing large amounts of information was essential. In a world where access to data was always limited, the ability to remember what you were taught, without fresh access to all the data, was a critical success factor.

 Section 9: By instilling values such as obedience to authority, promptness in attendance, and organizing the time according to bell ringing helped students prepare for future employment.

 Section 13: schools remain focused on yesterday’s needs.

Section 14: “What are you doing to fuel my kid’s dreams?”

Section 23: Group projects are the exception in school, but they should be the norm.

 Section 24: teachers who care teach students who care.

Section 43, one of my favorites: Teach the history of baseball, beginning with Abner Doubleday and the impact of cricket and imperialism. Have a test.

Starting with the Negro leagues and the early barnstorming teams, assign students to memorize facts and figures about each player. Have a test.

Rank the class on who did well on the first two tests, and allow these students to memorize even more statistics about baseball players. Make sure to give equal time to players in Japan and the Dominican Republic. Send the students whodidn’t do as well to spend time with a lesser teacher, but assign them similar work, just over a longer time frame. Have a test.

Sometime in the future, do a field trip and go to a baseball game. Make sure no one has a good time.If there’s time, let kids throw a baseball around during recess.

Obviously, there are plenty of kids (and adults) who know far more about baseball than anyone could imagine knowing. And none of them learned it this way.

The industrialized, scalable, testable solution is almost never the best way to generate exceptional learning.

Section 44: Teaching is no longer about delivering facts that are unavailable in any other format.

Section 45: We can amplify each kid’s natural inclination to dream, we can inculcate passion in a new generation, and we can give kids the tools to learn more, and faster, in a way that’s never been seen before.