Isn’t it obvious that the production techniques that give us millions of i-Pods all exactly the same should not be used in our schools? Yet haven’t we adopted such techniques in the education of our children? Children are different, every one of them from every other one. Yet we go on grouping them together most often by age in our schools. This does keep the cost of education low, but also keeps even lower the learning of our children. (If you don’t believe this try using your Spanish on the typical fourth year Spanish language student in our highschools.)
The wolf pack is all about rearing its young. The wolf wouldn’t have it any other way. Going off to work for the wolf means keeping its young well fed. Staying home means being sure the cubs play and thereby learn. The salmon is different depositing its thousands of eggs in the river bottom to be then fertilized by the male and subsequently abandoned to fend for themselves when only the fittest few will survive to lay thousands of eggs in their turn.
Both methods are best in their particular circumstances. No one would have the wolf or the salmon reform its practices. Our method? Who would ever say it’s the best we can do? Who is satisfied? Who hasn’t tried, so far without great success, to improve our educational system? Perhaps in the past, when we were hunter gatherers, we knew how to educate our young. Who would ever say that we know how now?
We blindly and stubbornly keep our young of the same chronological age together, trying to work with whatever abilities and interests they may share, rather than with what makes them special and unique. In fact, we pretty much neglect the individual traits that will one day, in one way or another, come into their own, making most of what we have done in our schools come to nothing.
Again, only because our children have extraordinary survival capabilities does our race continue. Think how much more significant humanity’s story on this earth would be if we allowed each child to realize his or her own unique potential. Isn’t it obvious that what we have been doing is all wrong?
Now educators have for a long time had glimpses of this truth. But they haven’t yet by and large drawn the obvious conclusions. (The educator John Holt is an exception, and there are others.)
Take for example, these remarks of Ted Sizer. Isn’t he on to something?
"School curricula are a mile wide and an inch deep. For example, what
could be absolutely more insane than the world history course,
Cleopatra to Clinton in 180 days? What could be abolutely more insane
than an English teacher with 130 kids, five classes a day, expected to
edit childish writing into prose of quality and grace and clarity?"
and, "Push [only] on a mass basis three standards: resourceful reading, clear
writing and speaking, and computational mathematics. These are subjects
upon which most can agree and without which no school can begin to be
effective…. keep central authority out of the other elements of
school, matters over which there can and should be ‘no one best
Or Joe Gauld who in an email to James Traub writes: "The emphasis
on academic achievement is basically elitist, since roughly 10
percent naturally respond to classroom instruction, while the other 90
percent either give up or seek recognition elsewhere."
(Here is the link to James Traub’s article about Joe Gauld and the Hyde Schools in Education Next in which this comment appears.)
I would agree with Joe. So why indeed do we keep the other 90 percent in the same classroom? Haven’t we learned that it doesn’t work? And unbelievably we’ve been doing this since the founding of the common school some 150 years ago. Once again this is great testimony to the extraordinary survival qualities of our race, and in particular of our children.