Oct 18, 2005
A Custom-fit Education System
Have you ever been to some event and received a one-size-fits-all hat? Did it fit well? Did you actually take the hat home and wear it? Or did it go up on the closet shelf where you can't really get to it? Maybe you've donated it to Goodwill for the bums and college students who shop at thrift stores.
I originally set out to simply make a comment on A Schoolyard Blog's latest post about stale donuts and her remorseful response to Fantasia Barrino's admission that she can't read:
Over the weekend I read a tidbit of star news. Fantasia Barrino, an American Idol who left me in awe with her rendition of Summer Time, has admitted that she is functionally illiterate. She has a new book out that she dictated to a free-lance writer. Star and illiterate in the same sentence is a sad statement. I fantasized Fantasia in a school where the main focus was singing, something she always knew about from the bones out, and she was learning to read and write on the side. I don’t know if it is possible for a singing school to turn someone into AP material, but maybe you have to start somewhere.
And with a one-two punch, ASYB'er talks with a guy who has come from a D.C. ghetto to Denver and is installing cable boxes:
Then a young man who told me he grew up in the “ghettos” of Washington D.C. came to install a new cable box. As I was talking with him I saw that the only thing keeping him in the installers truck was lack of practice in talking about his thinking. Because of the way he was enjoying our conversation I could tell that he had not been exposed to enough people who thought their job included listening and helping him be comfortable extending his thoughts.
...so ASYB'er concludes:
How I felt about these two incidents spurred me to conclude that I am sort of over education issues. Perhaps my imagination is too wild or my ideas too simple for a public institution. I have watched education for a long time and the stories haven’t changed much. They say a watched pot doesn't boil so I am going to stop watching for a bit.
I understand her frustration. The source of her frustration is so systemic in our current ways of thinking that we might not be able to overcome it.
Colorado is gearing up to vote on Referendums C & D, which ditch the Tax Payer's Bill Of Rights (TABOR) Law in favor of a tax increase to "improve education and health care." Colorado's TABOR law is unique. Pretty much every economist in Colorado agrees that the TABOR law is the single mechanism that kept Colorado from serious financial woes like the ones California is facing.
Personally, I'm a little worried to be ditching the TABOR law. As a young professional with a good job, I am theoretically earning enough to pay off my education debt and am looking to buy a house. Unfortunately I'm not doing either, and am increasingly frustrated with putting 30% or more of my wages towards "improving" things. If I could skip paying taxes for just this year, I could use that tax money to pay off all of my debt and start 2006 as a fresh, fired-up, debt-free consumer. I would: buy a house, start contributing to my company's fully-vested 100%-match-up-to-6%-salary 401k, get married, and take a vacation. I might also think seriously about starting a family. Instead, I am paying credit interest and making only small dents in the principles.
Nevertheless, they are asking for a tax-raise in Colorado. From my perspective a tax-increase feels too much like piling an increasing amount of money into an increasingly failing education system where everybody is feeling increasingly worthless -- both kids and teachers. (Hopefully the administrators are also starting to feel worthless...)
Why do I think our system of public education is failing? Because in most cases, in the lives of most of our students, it is worthless.
I do not think it is failing because Fantasia Barrino cannot read. I think it is failing because we have somehow trained ourselves to conclude that we have failed if Fantasia Barrino cannot read.
If Fantasia could read as a child, would she still be able to sing as well as she can? Probably not since a creature's abilities are strengthened and weakened in inverse proportion to the strength of the other abilities involved in surviving and thriving. Fantasia's singing ability provides her an opportunity to reach out and help people. Had she spent more time reading and writing and less time singing, it's very possible that both her writing and singing skills would be mediocre and would not provide her with such an opportunity as she has now.
B.B. King is another example. In his semi-autobiography, he mentions that he stuttered horribly as a child, and began singing in the church choir because singing was the only time he could say words smoothly. B.B. learned to read at a later age in life, and has accomplished much more than he would have otherwise.
I'm not writing this to be a nay-sayer. I am not trying to excuse us from the obligation to assist the progress of everyone in our society. But I would like to point out that the quality of an average public education in America (all the way through college) is going downhill at an increasing rate the more we tell ourselves that "everybody deserves the same education."
Clearly people do not deserve the same education, nor do they even want it. And if they did want it, nobody would respond to it in the same way. Education is a personalized journey that each person must tailor for themselves. It is Our responsibility to continually seek more effective ways to help students educate themselves. It is subsequently Business's responsibility to find more efficient ways to assess a person's education "travel" log.
Only a thin, dynamic and scalable education system will perform well for us as our society grows. A heavy, laggard and highly-political system is failing us now as our society grows past the system's capabilities. Our one-education-fits-all approach is like the one-size-fits-all baseball hat -- it truly fits nobody.
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I can't believe that no one has commented on your thoughtful post about the folly of "one size fits all". It is a conversation that I have had many times with colleagues at lunch and in the school hallways.
I am starting an edublog (of sorts) on Yahoo! 360 and would be honored if you would like to connect to me.
Posted by: Ms. C | Jan 29, 2006 2:03:54 AM
"But I would like to point out that the quality of an average public education in America (all the way through college) is going downhill at an increasing rate the more we tell ourselves that "everybody deserves the same education."
Clearly people do not deserve the same education, nor do they even want it. And if they did want it, nobody would respond to it in the same way. Education is a personalized journey that each person must tailor for themselves."
That's most of the problem in a nutshell. Trying to have all students meet the same standard means our default "standard" tends to be Mediocrity. We need to stop kidding ourselves.
Posted by: Nic | Oct 27, 2006 10:45:10 AM
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