Extra Credit – The Value of Your Children’s Education – Part VIII – Valuing Differences


Extra Credit – The Value of Your Children’s Education – Part VIII – Valuing Differences

By DR. JEFFREY L. MITCHELL

What do you hold sacred about your children’s education?

Of course, it varies among parents. But are there commonalities regarding what parents hold in high regard?

Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical features of a quality educational experience. I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the essential features of a quality education.

The previous seven articles in this series have focused on:

1. Care / connection

2. Mission

3. Communication

4. Optimal conditions for learning

5. Great teachers

6. Opportunities

7. Community

This eighth article argues the importance of valuing differences.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” — Audre Lorde

The fabric of the world

We are inextricably intertwined. The fabric of humanity is an amazing mosaic of cultures, creeds, and colors. Like a quilt, from a few feet away the squares of the quilt are distinctive. You can appreciate the uniqueness. Up close and far away, the distinctiveness of the segments is much harder to distinguish. Up close, one appreciates the threads and the intricate loops that are the binding strength. From afar, one appreciates a holistic sense of unity and beauty of the quilt. So it should be with people.

Schools are a loom

What is the ultimate goal of schooling? College? Academic progress? Social / emotional growth? Citizenry? All worthy outcomes. Connected and interwoven within all of these is an even more profound idea: that of deeply valuing differences.

Valuing learning differences

Historically, the educational model that has been in place would not get full marks for valuing differences among learners. Somewhat ironically, the traditional model of schooling emphasizes uniformity and structure, not an appreciation of differences in how we all learn.

The structure of school that was designed during the Industrial Revolution for the express purpose of efficiently training the workforce for factory jobs. It was perpetuated through the 20th century, in large part influenced by the need to prepare the citizenry for potential military service. The strength of the system is efficiency. Learners can be churned through the system, receive adequate training/instruction, while costs are managed.

But if we are truly interested in valuing the cognitive differences of learners, the education system is inadequate. Tens of thousands of independently conducted studies (see A Comprehensive Analysis of Learning for a brief summary), resulting in hundreds of popular articles (see We All Learn Differently, and That’s OK …) and hundreds of powerful talks (see Sir Ken Robinson – the most popular TED Talk in history) all point to a better way.

So what does such a system look like? To start, we recognize that every learner would benefit from an Individualized Learning Plan. This is comprehensive document that is shared with all relevant personnel. It houses the student’s annual goals, as well as detailed information regarding academic and social-emotional progress.

Next, we recognize that fewer students in most of the classes that our children take would allow for more individualized attention for the students in those classrooms.

Additionally, we also should provide for substantially more training of our educators. Another irony: schools as learning institutions, actually pale in comparison to many other organizations when resources for professional growth are assessed.

I understand, however, that even this briefest of outlines for a new normal in the education system implies massive conceptual and philosophical change. Followed closely by a huge adjustment to the financial model — it would be far more expensive. Thus, the political will by both politicians and the general population to make these changes would need to be astronomical. But there is no question such changes would move our students, our schools and our society forward.

Final Thoughts

When I interview potential faculty members at Currey Ingram Academy, I want to hear how excited they are to be working with students who learn differently. Not just, yes this is important work, but more like wow I cannot wait to explore the mosaic of differences in our student body.

Valuing and then deeply understanding cognitive and social /emotional differences has been our bread and butter for 50 years. We have found that truly personalizing and individualizing our core academic and supporting programs are perhaps the most profoundly important way to value differences.

conditions for learning
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell

Thank you for reading, and I welcome your thoughts on the importance of valuing differences or any other Extra Credit topic.

(Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is head of school of Currey Ingram Academy.)

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