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Educating for individuality

Lynn Stoddard is a longtime educator, tirelessly advocating for what children need. He invites you to spread the word far and wide.

By Lynn Stoddard

What will happen if our schools give up trying to standardize students, but instead, decide to help students develop their unique sets of talents, gifts, interests and abilities? The Federal Department of Education is preparing to launch national standards for human uniformity - a big mistake. Why not have high standards for nurturing positive human individuality?

What will happen if we do it?.

Some of the following things are already happening in a few private schools like the one the Obama girls attend, but should be available for all of America's children:

Teaching is restored as an honored and highly sought profession. Student and teacher drop-outs decrease. School will be interesting, challenging and exciting again. Parents will become meaningfully involved as partners to help children develop as individuals. Crime rates will decrease. Self-chosen, home study will replace teacher-assigned home work. Individual achievement and knowledge will soar as students investigate their own interests and develop their own talents.

Cooperation and collaboration replaces most competition. Portfolios and presentations will replace all but teacher and student-made assessments. Hands-on investigations replace busywork sheets. Teachers will nurture curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. Students will fall in love with reading and increase in their zest for truth and knowledge.

A huge mistake is about to be made under the banner, "National Standards." The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are unveiling a plan to develop common English-language Arts and Mathematics standards across the nation. They call it the "Common Core State Standards Initiative." The plan is for subject matter specialists to decide what all students should know and be able to do at each grade level. It is a call to develop student uniformity at a higher level. Achievement tests will be administered to track and compare progress across the states.

Standards for uniformity? Is this an oxymoron? Is it possible to have high standards for doing the wrong things? It makes sense for factories that produce products to have standards for uniformity, but what about schools? Should they be operated like factories, with quality controls (achievement tests) to make sure each "product" is the same?

Why do so many people believe it is the main business of schools to develop human uniformity? The current push for uniformity shows that large numbers of people have developed a false belief about what education is for. They are exhibiting what George Odiorne calls, "the activity trap." In 1974 he said, "Most people get caught in the (curriculum) trap. They get so enmeshed in (curriculum) they lose sight of why they are doing it and the (curriculum) becomes a false goal, and end in itself."

This may be the reason our society holds uniform student achievement in curriculum as the main goal and purpose of schooling. Evidence for this is the courses students are required to take (such as algebra) for graduation from high school and grade-point averages in the required curriculum. Achievement in curriculum is what policymakers try to assess. By so doing it dictates to teachers, with false goals, the methods they use. Standardized tests force teachers to ignore the vast differences in students and try to make them all alike in the knowledge and skills that are assessed. Victor Weisskopf said "People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains. Knowledge has to be sucked into the brain, not pushed in."

If "national standards for student uniformity" get installed in schools across the nation, it will force teachers to press information into the brains of students as fast as possible. They will not be able to wait for the "urge to know" to develop in each child. They will "teach" the prescribed curriculum in a direct manner and accept the illusion that significant learning has occurred. In reality the knowledge will only be shallow and temporary as it has always been in a standardized, test-based school system.

Now you have a choice. Do nothing and get national standards for student uniformity imposed on your schools. OR ..... Write or call newspapers, legislators, the president, school board members, neighbors, teachers, your governor and others to help stop national standards for uniformity from becoming a reality. Ask them to start a movement toward educating for student individuality. If we develop high standards that nurture human diversity, standards that nurture and address our talents and our infinite variety, we will dignify not only our children and our profession but indeed, all of us.

Lynn Stoddard is a founding member of the Educating for Human Greatness Alliance. He lives in Farmington and can be reached at lstrd@yahoo.com.

— Lynn Stoddard
Ogden Standard Examiner


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