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.