Public education is a schizophrenic system. On one hand we talk about differentiating instruction and personalizing learning and on the other we group and target our non-readers, poor math students, those at risk for not passing the state tests. We speak of individualism but act on collectivism. These words carry a variety of meanings, but I want to use them in terms of education.
We, for the most part, agree that people have different skills and talents and learn at different rates. Educators at one point or another have studied Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. We believe it takes “all kinds” to have a rich functioning society. We are distinctly aware our classes are made up of individuals. Yet in schools we focus primarily on two intelligences math and language and expect all students to learn a set of skills in a set amount of time to be prepared for a test. Many accept that not everyone can be a skilled artist, musician or athlete but expect all to be talented in math and language. We group students due to the economy of scale; it is practical to manage many people this way. Likewise we collect information into subjects and grade levels. It is our nature to categorize and group things to help us make understanding and meaning of the word. We instruct groups of students in groups of standards arranged in classes.
Learning is not something done to an individual but takes place within an individual; it is a very personal active process. Never before has an individual had such access to information and the tools to support learning then the technologies of today have brought us. Those individuals who have accepted responsibly for their own learning have no limits on what they can learn or which talents and desires to pursue. They are no longer bound by the constraints of a school’s curriculum or the ability of their classmates. Many parents have sought a more individualized approach to their children’s education and have sought private or charter school alternatives including homeschooling. The rise of homeschooling may be a reflection of the increased access to information at the ability to connect with other learners. Parents no longer need schools to provide access to information and learning opportunities for their children, they can find what they need elsewhere.
Schools too have access to these same tools and resources that can allow for the individualization and personalization of learning. But schools are large, bureaucratic, political institutions where change is slow and had to come by. Where by necessity the focus in on groups and when the focus does shift to an individual it usually boils down to which sub-group (program) we can assign them too. The learning landscape is changing rapidly while the educational landscape is changing from one set of standards and tests to another set.