Why Must We Mass-Produce Education?

There are so few original ideas. Modern education is modeled on mass production. We despair of this, because the one-size-fits-all system really doesn’t fit all. This isn’t an original idea by any stretch; besides people saying this in recent years, in particular with dismay about the failures of No Child Left Behind, they have been saying it for a very long time.

I read an excellent blog post today about the idiocy of taking a single element from a reasonably successful school system (Finland), beaming it down into our system, and hoping inanely that it will work out of context. I then came across the recent announcement of Google’s answer to TED talks, “Solve for X.” One of the speakers, Michael Crow of Arizona State University, described how they’ve completely scrapped the artificial construct that is the classification system for educational study at higher education levels, in favor of a new approach that focuses on outcomes like sustainability and exploration. Some of their work encourages extraordinarily creative sci-fi thinkers to envision what might solve various problems humanity faces, and then tackles the practical side of realizing those visions.

And somehow this led me next to Temple Grandin’s 2010 TED talk. Her point was that the world needs to heed divergent minds, because some of those most divergent, like hers, can lead to the most surprising innovations and discoveries.

Meld this all with what we’ve learned about educating (or, to be more accurate, keeping up with) exceptionally and profoundly gifted and asynchronous children, and you have the makings of a major revolution… but not an original one, just the same one people have been having since we began to standardize compulsory education. Children are not homogeneous. They have different, varying needs. Some of them have extreme needs. Their educational system must accommodate those needs, or they won’t learn, much less thrive. And if our educational system encourages extraordinary creativity, married with practical approaches to realizing these creative solutions, mightn’t we be better off than with a system that encourages rote memorization, lock-step thinking, and outdated assembly-line approaches to problem-solving?

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