Let’s All Be the Same

This article, posted in Teacher Magazine, movingly shows how standardization undercuts what matters most in education. Our Lord warned us against causing little ones to stumble. It seems we need to spend more time thinking about what causes them to do so in this Age of Procrustus.

The modern school seems to be inherently hostile, systemically, to human nature.


3 Responses

  1. Here’s a quick example. Let’s say we determine through observation and testing that good educational design accounts for different learning styles.

    Now we look across the different ways a subject is taught and we eliminate those that only cater to one style. I would say, we’ve reduced variabilty and improved education.

    Here’s another example, let’s say we have a series of lectures we’re the retention rate one week later in one case is 5% and another it’s 20%. Quality says, you elininate one and try to replicate the other.

    Quality improvement is not stagnant. It a continuous process of getting better. It uses measurement and experimentation to see what works. Simply by tossing out what doesn’t work reduces variability and improves education.

    If learning is a process, then it can be improved the way other processes are improvement. If learning is choatic and can’t be structured or if it happens in some mysterious way, then quality improvement doesn’t apply.

    We’ve done this hundreds of times with thousands of students and not only are the results better, the students are happier.

    (Last thought, if you just remove everything that’s a waste of time, you reduce variability and improve education. If you went classroom to classroom, I guarantee you, that you’d find plenty of this.)

  2. Steve,

    I cannot agree with your proposition, at least not in the form you have expressed it and as I understand it. In an industrial model, I completely agree. If I want a car or a fly swatter to be high quality, I need to elimiante outliers. Sometimes I wonder, though, if we haven’t lost the quality of the artisan by our elimination of judgment.

    But what about human things? I want “high quality” children. Should I treat each of them exactly the same way? I want a great marriage. Should I try to make it identical to somebody else’s.

    The problem would seem to lie in this: human beings already have nearly infinite variability. To reduce the variability is to eliminate their personalities, inclinations, etc. It is to stop treating them like human beings.

    As an educational consultant, I try to find the “samenesses” that can be applied in every situation. Otherwise, what would be the use of me travelling from California to Florida to Texas to Ontario.

    But the degree of sameness (of reduced variability) is different in some areas of activity than it is in others. I would refer you to a vital principle expressed in Aristotle’s Ethics:

    “It is the mark of an educated man to seek for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits.”

    The nature of education, like ethics, provides principles that are “for the most part true.” There is no way to eliminate the need for wisdom in education.

    That is why education has always been mostly bad. It is hard. And that is why the attempt to make all education the same can only make it even worse.

    I must end by insisting, however, that we are talking about a difference of degree and not of kind. There are parameters within which we ought to do the same things, eliminating certain variables (teachers should never demoralize students, students should all be taught the tools of learning, etc.). But to strive to eliminate all variables is to eliminate education itself.

  3. Reducing variability is a key component of improving the quality of everything. The only way for everyone to do the best thing is to try to get rid of everything that doesn’t work.

    This concept is foreign to the way schools are set up. Ultimately the teacher determines what gets taught and how it’s taught. That means that you have possiblity of having tens of thousands of different ways a single subject is taught. Some very good, some mediocre and some really bad.

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