I have come to the conclusion there are many concepts in our understanding of how the universe works that are rather intuitive. One of these ideas is the notion of the learning curve. Said quite simply, everybody learns at a different pace. We all know this is true and have experienced it in our own march towards adulthood. We witness people who learn faster than we and those who learn more slowly. It is what behavioral scientists call the BELL CURVE. There is a range of physical characteristics that extends all the way from foot size to how fast we accumulate knowledge. If I measure any physical or mental characteristic of any living thing, plant to human, there will be a range of results. The standard percentages are 2% below average, 14% in the next to lowest area, 68% in the middle, 14% above average and 2% in the upper most area. It is important to understand that being on one side or the other of the curve does not automatically mean that that is a good trait. I am not sure that having size 19 shoes, which would put one very far to the right of the curve, would be much help in out-running a tiger on the Serengeti. In terms of intelligence being in the right top 2% of the curve means you are smarter than 98% of your fellow humans. In some cases this is good.
Here is a picture of what I am referring to. Notice the percentages in each area. This could be an IQ chart or a foot-size chart; it really does not matter. To my point, I want you to consider it as a learning curve chart. A very small number of people will learn extremely fast and so on and so on. With this thought in mind, let us take a look at the traditional classroom with students from every point on the curve. Now, place a teacher in front of these 25 students and ask him/her to keep all 25 children engaged and learning. Do this for 6 to 7 hours a day, five days a week. We all know the scenario: the bright kid in the class gets bored and then begins to act out, disrupting the class whenever he wants. The slower children are somewhat lost because the teacher is going too fast. Then there are all of the kids in the middle who span the distance between the 16% and 84th percentile. 16 to 84 percent is a lot of variation from 16 to 84! You may ask, why then do we do this? Why do we feel the need to put all 7 year olds together and all 12 year olds together regardless of how quickly they learn? The sad truth is that we do it for convenience. Children are much easier to keep track of if they are grouped homogeneously, based on age. So, little Johnny who is capable of doing algebra in the second grade will have to wait till he is in middle school. And little Beth will have to wait untill high school to write sonnets. Most elementary teachers are not trained to handle the smarter kids in class, and if they are, it is a whole lot more work and they already have far too much keeping up with all the bull-crap the state and county throws at them to waste their valuable time. The idea of a grade-less school system has been discussed many times in the past but has always been pushed aside in favor of the more efficient age-grouped arrangement.
In today’s system we to often tell children of the horrible consequences of failing a grade. We mark them as dumb, uncooperative, attention deficit, inattentive, uninterested and numerous other reasons for not meeting the standards. Rather than label them with all these negative words, why not simply tell them they that they need more time to learn the material! I dare to suggest an alternative reason for not meeting the standard: maybe the child has a different learning curve! So now this child has been labeled for the rest of his life as a failure simply because we have a strictly (maybe not so strictly enforced in our county!) enforced grade system. Now consider the alternative. Little Bobby needs more time to master the skills of that level and when he is ready, he moves on to new material with his self-esteem in tack and the mastery of that skill set.
Today’s school system is stuck in the mud, and there are no signs of going to 4-wheel drive in the near future. We are creating a whole generation where a large majority of children are going to be essentially uneducated and unable to participate in a very complex and unforgiving society. Not only do many of our children suffer from a false over confidence and inflated self-worth, many of them feel society owes them a THE GOOD LIFE. Do not misunderstand me on this point, We do have a responsibility to provide a social safety net for all Americans that needs to be fair and cost efficient, but we also have to instill a desire to better one’s self throughout life. This is where the family and the school system must focus their effort, giving children the desire to seek knowledge, expand horizons, stretch the boundaries of human existence and enjoy the one part of life that makes us so different from any other animal living on this planet- to grow intellectually!