American children have enough problems getting an education without yet another revisitation of the arguments over the one best way to help children learn. People aren't expected to respond in the same way to the medicines a doctor may prescribe. Professional baseball players don't hit from a single batting stance. And even identical twins have their differences. So why do some educators find it necessary to insist that one size fits all in education?
The concerns some education officials have are valid -- even if their conclusions are not. Joe DiMartino, program director for student-centered learning at Brown University's Education Alliance said, "The idea that our predominantly minority low-income kids need something less than our predominantly white middle- and upper-income kids need is at the very least classist if not racist."
Yes, the poor achievement of low-income children should be a worry for the entire nation, but assuming that teaching methods designed to provide a foundation for learning where none exists are somehow second class really does consign the under-prepared to permanent second class status.
Basics before theory
A child who does not know math facts, won't have a sudden arithmetic epiphany if he or she is taught math theory. Nor will math get any easier as the child grows older. A boy or girl who speaks nonstandard English at home, will not be able to write standard English at school until he or she has mastered the appropriate basics of grammar and usage, And no amount of wishful thinking is likely to change that.
At the same time, however, no child should be bored out of her or his socks while others are brought up to speed. The challenge is to tailor teaching methods to the needs of the child -- not the needs of the teacher, school or educational system.
Of course, that's a tall order. It's a lot cheaper to buy clothes off the rack than to call in a seamstress. The problems arise for those children whose sizes are not readily available -- too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too anything. For them and their parents, shopping is a torment.
Similarly, educational problems arise for those children who are too quick or too slow, math-capable or math-incapable, superior readers or inferior readers. There are those who learn by listening, those who learn by reading and those who learn by doing, and those who have difficulty learning at all. And when teachers -- or principals or school systems -- are committed to only one teaching method, children who do not respond to that method are left in educational torment.
Educational standards establish what children need to know -- but not how they learn it. Good teachers recognize the need to approach each child as an individual. Good communities and good schools districts make it possible for each child to be fully educated.