One size doesn’t fit all

The traditional education systems need repair


(Collegian file photo)

By Drew Sullivan, Collegian Contributor

As we try to shape a better future for ourselves and the next generation, education remains key in our goals to create a more informed populace. However, our current system leaves much to be desired, as swaths of children continue to fall through the cracks. If we are to build an educational system which is inclusive instead of exclusive, diversification is necessary.

In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner pioneered the multiple intelligences theory ,which stated that traditional ideas of intelligence were far too limited. He came up with eight different types of intelligence, from linguistic and interpersonal to logical-mathematical and spatial.

Students who might have been thought of as intellectually or academically challenged 50 years ago are beginning to be viewed in a different light. The educational approaches used in the classroom are just as important as the material itself. Rote memorization might work for some, but there will inevitably be others who fall behind. By implementing a variety of teaching strategies, more students will be able to engage with what they’re learning and demonstrate that on tests, papers and projects.

As Robin Williams profoundly stated in The Dead Poets Society, “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

This quote speaks volumes about the importance of creativity in education. Modern-day education remains the incubator of future scientists, mathematicians and linguists. But what about the future poets, designers, therapists, artists and musicians? More often than not, students are encouraged to follow a cookie-cutter path, where conformity is rewarded and dissent in any form is punished.

The public school system can be harrowing for children of all types, as one learns to navigate standardized tests, homework and everyone’s favorite, the group project. But for children with mental, emotional or developmental disabilities, school can represent a place of fear, failure and frustration as opposed to learning and growing. As someone with autism and other disabilities, I distinctly remember my heart palpitating rapidly nearly every time I stepped into the classroom, up until high school. I was socially awkward and practically unable to pay attention for more than a few minutes. Kids like me are often mislabeled as problem children by the school, which only sets them up for failure. Detentions and suspensions are punctuated by failing grades and papers filled to the brim with red correction marks. The children and teens who need the most help are often relegated to the margins of the educational world, placed in alternative classes or removed from school altogether.

One way we can begin to repair our broken system is by first examining how we discipline students. In the past decade, many people have talked about the “school-to-prison pipeline.” When we suspend students, we are taking them out of an environment in which they can learn. Educational deprivation should never be used as a form of punishment. It is neither corrective nor effective. Furthermore, the rate of suspensions and what students are being suspended for provide a unique insight into the troubling racial disparities found at schools throughout the country. According to the 2017 Brown Center Report on Race and Education, the state of California appears to be following national trends highlighted in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The statistics show that Black students are suspended at a rate five times that of white students and four times that of Hispanic students. Additionally, this was roughly four times the state average. A recent study by the Journal of School Violence showed not only that suspensions were handed out for minor offenses, but also that they actually exacerbated problem behavior instead of stemming it.

Another glaring flaw in primary education and one that hasn’t seen nearly enough reform or change is standardized testing. A simple regurgitation of material is simply not a sufficient way for students to demonstrate their comprehension on a specific subject. An opinion article in the Sonoma State Star by Alexandra Daniels calls it “outdated” and “inaccurate.” The article also mentions a study from the National Center for Open and Fair Testing, who believe standardized testing doesn’t measure deep thinking or creativity. The timed aspect of a test also contributes to the phenomenon of test anxiety, in which a combination of physiological and emotional symptoms and stressors result in decreased test performance.

Many believe that education is the key to combating poverty and violence, and I would be inclined to agree. But as we shape the future generation of doctors, lawyers, artists, designers, writers and politicians, we must pay special attention not just to what we are teaching them, but how we reach them. An educational system that only works for some students at the expense of others sets a bad example. One-size-fits-all may work well with clothing or jewelry, but when it comes to education, diversity cannot be sacrificed.

Drew Sullivan is a Collegian correspondent and can be reached at [email protected]