Monthly Archives: February 2009

Running the Zoo

From The Element by Ken Robinson, mentioned over at Will Richardson’s blog, Web-logged:


The key to this transformation is not to standardize education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of the each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions (238). The curriculum should be personalized. Learning happens in the  minds and souls of individuals–not in the databases of multiple-choice tests (248).


The young, fearless, hopelessly optimistic part of my soul is naturally shouting “Hooray!” at this notion.  The sooner public education acknowledges that students are not interchangeable robots, the better.  Students should definitely follow their passions and strengths.  A high school diploma could represent a culminating mastery of a particular field rather than the bland cookie-cutter, vanilla, meat and potatoes (food metaphors!) education it does now.


Giving this idea of personalized education a little more thought, however, I get skeptical.  Real skeptical.  Here are my issues:


1. We already have personalized education — It’s called college

So students should be allowed, after receiving a ground-level familiarity with the world’s knowledge, to further investigate those fields that most interest them?  Um, that’s what I did in college.  I took a handful of “core” classes, then went down a road that seemed best suited for me.  That road (English, then Teaching) had its own avenues of discovery that I could pick and choose from.  I didn’t care about Shakespeare, so I never took him (suffering for it now, as I fret over starting R&J next week).  I did have an interest in Film Studies, so I loaded my schedule with that.


College is where society has apparently drawn the line between everybody-learn-this and everybody-go-learn-something.  It’s the age/educational level where one is trusted to wisely individualize his learning.  Maybe society drew the line there for good reason?  This brings me to…


2. Kids are Dumb

I mean that in the nicest way possible, but it’s true.  I can’t imagine any of my students taking seriously the challenge to discover and pursue their own passions.  Even my immensely bright angels, whom I know will go on to greatness in their lives, would likely squander an opportunity like this.  I have future engineers and architects in my class, but instead of taking Drafting or Physics, they’d be fighting for a spot in the Video Game Design class we’d inevitably have to offer.


And I have no idea what my precious dunderheads would do in such a situation.  A few would admirably throw their eggs into a respectable basket: automotives, electrical engineering, etc.  Most would track down the path of least resistance.  What’s to stop a kid from dedicating his educational career to weight training or pottery?  Which brings me to…


3. It’s a step backwards on an escalator

If a school or district were to uproot the current system and start over, concentrating on a student’s personal freedom to learn whatever, I’ve got a feeling bureacracy would crush any good intentions in just a few years.  We’d start optimistic.  It would be chaotic but exactly what students had been supposedly needing all this time.


Then, the educational pendulum would start to swing back the other way.  We’d add benchmarks and standards.  “Study whatever you want, little Cody!  But you’re going to need three years of math and science courses, too, OK?”


In the spirit of giving each child a foundation in imperative knowledge, each class would have to go back on that whole self-discovery thing. “Freedom is the key around here, but we’ve had a meeting and determined that you should all at least read The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, and To Kill a Mockingbird.”


Suddenly, that time students spent at school following their own interests gets relegated to whatever space they can manage in their schedules.  Those classes become electives.  And we’re right back where we started.

Me and My Cell Phones and Their Cell Phones

I don’t believe in ADD (Exhibit A).  But I do have a pretty  low attention span.  And ever since the iPhone put the internet in my pocket, I can’t go 5 unstimulated minutes without checking something: my email, Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, etc.


I’m ashamed of this for a few reasons.  I’m certainly a worse driver when I’m tweeting behind the wheel, but it’s mostly an issue of etiquette.  I should be able to hold a conversation with people nearby or entertain myself with my actual surroundings.  Interacting with the real world is a constant act of discovery; playing with my phone is just a comfortable time-wasting habit.


The kids are, naturally, worse about this kind of thing than I am.  Unlike me, they’re addicted to texting, and they have no qualms about doing it in class.  Thirty perfectly conscious and kind of interesting people sitting around them, and they have to have a digital, broken-English dialogue with a kid in some other class.


My point is I realize why they do it.  They’re bored.  They’re feeling the same thing I feel when I’m shopping with Maria, or stopped at a red light, or in any of the dozens of other instances where I pull out my iPhone for a quick look at


So what, if anything, should be done?  How does a teacher with a cell phone addiction reprimand students for being addicted to their cell phones?  I mostly fall back on the school’s official policy: no cell phones out during school hours.  I’m pretty lenient, usually asking students to put it away and only writing up the repeat offenders (recidivism!).


Part of me wants to be understanding, hence the leniency.  Another part knows that these people will only figure out social norms by being punished for breaking them.  Maturity has its natural elements, certainly–judgment skills aren’t physically maxed out for males until their twenties–but I’ve got a role  in preparing kids for a real world, complete with momentary spurts of the day where it’s just not OK to check your stupid Twitter account.  I’ve got it (mostly) figured out; so should they.