Nurturing individuality

Published by Lori Pickert on March 24, 2009 at 02:07 PM

Those who are trying to destroy public education are very clever with words. “No Child Left Behind” was a powerful slogan for the Bush administration. Now we are getting hit with the word, “standards.” Who can be against “high standards” in anything? “National standards” sounds like a good thing, but it is just as insidious as NCLB has been. If you are against “national standards” you are unpatriotic. This is the implication.

Now, it seems to me that we have an opportunity to turn this phrase to the great benefit of students. We can ask the question, “Which is better — to have high standards for nurturing student uniformity? — or high standards for nurturing human diversity?” Shall we continue asking teachers to make students alike in knowledge and skills or shall we ask them to nurture individuality? What’s wrong with helping students develop in the things they are inherently good at doing? If people are so obsessed with high scores on standardized achievement tests we can show that it can best be attained by helping students grow in their talents than by trying to make them all alike, thusly ignoring the potential of high performers.Lynn Stoddard


From this post at Stop Homework


Comment by Meme on March 24, 2009 at 02:36 PM

This reminds me of something that C. S. Lewis talks about in his short book, The Abolition of Man. He states... "The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so...." he goes on to say..."Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so."

I realize it is a little off topic, as you are discussing nurturing individuality, but it always amazes me how much public education has changed under the guise that it is for our benefit, when in fact, the opposite has proven to be true.

Comment by Cordelia on March 25, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Whatever slogan or philosopy ostensibly guides education is ultimately passed into the hands of bureaucrats whose inclination is to standardize and "manual ize" everything.

The problem with a philosophy of "individualizing" education is that, too often, it has served as an excuse for a failure to educate children who struggle in an area, children whose very difficulties prevent them from expressing an "interest" in traditional academics. While I am l frustrated at he cookie cutter approach that both NCLB and "standards" talk suggest, I try to remember that the good old days were not so good for many kids who had any sort of learning difference. The promise of the more rigid educational philosophy is a commitment to the the notion that there are no kids who don't desreve our best attempt at reading and math instruction. Back when, teachers made early calls about kids' potential and inclination, and these were very hard to shake. Children who needed only additional support or special instruction to learn essential skills like reading and writing were shuttled off to "nonacademic" classes believed to be a better match for them. Sure, some kids found the teacher who spotted a unique talent or a fondness for a field and nurtured it, but most did not. I'm not really sure which is worse. I think back at the "special education" kids in my school, how they were really not taught, but were instead managed, how high school kids with speech impediments were tracked into "vocational" programs because teachers just didn's see them as the college type, and I think there is something to be said for requiring schools to teach all kids. .

The Dav Pilkey link the other day reminded me, above all, that teachers and school admins. have so much power over kids, and that some will mistreat and shortchange kids because they can. Yes, I love the idea of a flexible, open, individualized educational system, but I do not trust all administrators and teacher to deliver it, and it can so easily go very wrong.

Comment by Molly on March 25, 2009 at 01:14 PM

I'm not sure the 'no child left behind' program was all about uniformity. The intention, as i understand it, was to place a *minimums* on learning expectations. That -- at the bare minimum -- a child should come away with certain knowledge.

Not a high-aim by any stretch of the imagination.

What it does (well ... there are many negatives, of course) is continue to dillute the topic/converstaiton/interest-area pool, invariably limiting the HEIGHTs to which children can reach. When so much emphasis is placed on pulling some kids up to meet minimums, there is no budget/time/energy left to focus on helping children to maximize their potential.

An aside: this is but one example of why we should be wary of federalized systems across the board.

There is no denying that a 'standard' public education can leave enormous holes in learning - whether in areas of the arts, physical education, or potentially academic excellence. It is a rare school that can reward individuality. Teachers are burdened with rigid documentation and preparations upon which they themselves are continually measured.

Lately I feel I'm doing an in-adequate job as a homeschooling parent. My focus is too narrow. I need to avail myself of some new options, and re-gain some enthusiasm. However, despite this, I'm pretty convinced that school system would not be serving us any better.

Comment by Molly on March 25, 2009 at 01:15 PM

rant. ranted. ranting ...

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 25, 2009 at 02:19 PM

cordelia and molly, thank you for your thoughtful responses!

cordelia, i understand what you are saying, and i agree with you that an open, individualized, flexible system still depends on people (teachers and administrators) who may not best serve all their students.

but .. i think the issues you are bringing up are what a lot of people think of when they hear the phrase “no child left behind” .. but does the program fulfill that promise?

not when children who aren’t doing well at their standardized test practice runs so they are denied recess so they can study longer, while the students who did well get to go outside and play.

i think we swapped one faulty system that wasn’t doing enough for a segment of the student population for another, worse system that is broken for many more students. we’ve also created a system that chases away the teachers who would have excelled in the previous scenario.

i don’t think NCLB (what it turned out to be) honors the individuality of children because it is based on the idea that all children can be treated the same, that they should all perform in the same way given identical conditions. are we really doing anything to help those children who were being left behind? schools have pushed them out completely in order to raise their scores. they’ve been as punitive toward the students as the government has been toward the schools in order to reach these goals. dropout rates in some states have doubled.

everyone is concerned with numbers and scores (and money — the money the test companies are raking in) and who is concerned with the people? the teachers who thought they would be able to make a difference, then found out they had to teach according to a script and punish their students for being behind the Bell curve? the students, who needed to be cared for? this system pits everyone in education against each other, and everyone loses, but especially the children.

i agree with you that the old system wasn’t good enough and needed to be fixed, but i think NCLB has done much more harm than good. and when it comes to flexible, open, individual education, aw, shoot .. i’m still for it. ;^)

molly, i think the uniformity comes in with how we tried to achieve that goal of minimum expectations .. we tried to standardize everything, and then motivate through fear and punishment. at a child level, we know this doesn’t work. why would it work at a school level? teachers and administrators are just people trying to do their best and sometimes failing, like children; instead of helping them be better, we decided they should march in lockstep and be punished for not measuring up.

more uniformity — standardized tests, standardized curriculum, standardized scripts for teaching, everyone keeping his or her class on the same page each day of the school year.

agree, obviously, about how focusing on this caused us to lose sight of helping cihldren reach their potential!

your comment about being dissatisfied with your teaching lately made me think of the “teacher effects” post —

i agree with you that the lottery that is the school system wouldn’t serve you better overall. after all, you’re determined to keep learning, reinvigorate your teaching, and try new things. :^)

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