What does it mean to be an individual? I think it really can be summed up as the components that make us who we are. And, it is very important to carefully define this term because it has such a massive impact on our lives — at school, at work, and even in our relationships.
But how can we define individuality in a way where we can meet people where they are; help them to become more successful in all the aspects of their lives? In many respects, within our working lives and in our relationship, we understand that people are different. If we are on a blind-date, our first inclination is to really get to know a person, find out their likes and dislikes, and to determine if we are interested in the same things or have a similar outlook on life. In the workplace, it is the same; a boss (or good boss) will try to understand their employees, realizing that they have both strengths and weaknesses and to help them perform at the best of their ability.
Why don’t we do this same process in learning and education? Why don’t we truly get to know learners, their likes and dislikes, their beliefs and behaviors? We do have nibbles of this effort with the “personalized learning” movement. It is a realization that students should proceed at their own pace. Rate is certainly something that can be varied to increase achievement for all, but what about the content itself? Should content be varied between learners? Or should everyone march through the same content until they all reach a similar level of mastery. This seems to be the focus of the current “Common Core of Standards” movement.
With Common Core, we can now eliminate phrases such as “I’m a math person.”, or “I love to read literature”, or “I want to experiment like a scientist.” We can replace them with “I’m three-quarters proficient in math, and I’m ninety-percent proficient in reading”. Can we understand ourselves as individuals from this process?. Can we identify our passions and abilities? I don’t think we can.
What’s more is whether this represents what we consider ourselves to be as Americans? Americans are the people who innovate, who can achieve after a background of failure, who can come from poverty and rise above others because of their motivation and hard work. In many parts of Europe they have a Caste system. The upper classes are highly educated and wealthy, while the lower classes are not. In America, it had never been this black-and-white. Anyone could get ahead no matter what their educational background has been.
A focus on individuality needs to return to learning in this country. And how we do it is to realize that children K – 10th grade do need to learn similarly. Everyone has to learn basically how to read and write, do basic math and understand social studies and science. After grade 10, there should be individuality in learning. Let students set their own direction, based on their own passions and abilities. Everyone could take the GED test at age 16 to ensure that they have the basic knowledge and skills required in life. After that, everyone could be on their own, take the courses and the learning that interests them most. Only then can we return America to the land of opportunity for all, where anyone can rise up and succeed no matter what their background has been.