Should We Treat All Children the Same at School?
The easy answer, yes. The more difficult, but the one I think is correct, is no. No we should not treat every child the same. This is the problem with those who think we need a unified curriculum. Trying to teach the same thing to all children at the same time and using the same pace leaves a huge number of students either behind or bored. The treatment of each child in the same way goes well beyond the teaching curriculum. Let me explain.
While there are many aspects of the business world that can help government work more efficiently, standardization or more appropriately McDonaldization does not work in the classroom. Standardizing practices works in business because you are aiming to produce a standard high quality product out of standardized materials.
What are we trying to produce in education? We are trying to prepare young humans to learn a trade, attend college, join the armed forces, begin a business and any number of other choices available to adults in our society. What materials do we start with at the beginning and throughout the educational process? Teachers work with children that have two parents that love them and encourage their progress or children with two parents that are too self-involved to notice them. Teachers are given children who may have only one parent who is too tired from work to help them, or one parent who sacrifices everything to encourage their child through the school. Then there are the children whose parents have just been arrested, are going through a divorce, are in jail, do not speak English, or party all night so that the child cannot sleep. These things and hundreds of other scenarios are the raw materials that our public school teachers and the public school system have to turn into the products (capable adults) that society demands.
How do we do this? We start by treating each child as an individual. Today’s professional educators are trained to identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses, their emotional and social needs and address those needs so that the child can be successful. We need to allow teachers to be creative in the classroom and use their professional training and experience to address the needs of their children. Additionally we need to strengthen the support services available to students who need emotional and social support. We also need to let each school, parents, community, teachers, and administrators make decisions that are appropriate for their student population.
This is not going to change achievement immediately. Anything that promises immediate gains will be short lived. What we need to do is look at our practices, treat each child as an individual and work to address those individual needs. In the long term we will graduate more students and provide the type of adults that will carry our communities forward.