U.S. Education System Doesn’t Do Justice to Diversity

A few weeks back, I was having a conversation on Facebook about educating our kids. I was asked what my thoughts were on this important topic, and I deferred to give it the proper time and attention.

Our country is so big and diverse that I don’t believe education should be generalized. Even in one small school system like my local school, kids are different. Kids are even different within one grade, one classroom. Standardized tests are nothing more than, well, “standard.”

Curriculum developed on a national level cannot do justice to all the diversity this country has. For example, growing corn and soybeans on my North Central Iowa farm is nothing like raising cotton in Texas. Raising corn in Texas is even different from growing corn in Iowa as soil types, climate, annual rainfall, as well as disease and insect pressure differs greatly between these two states.

There are some jobs that are very geographic-specific. If I took a test about raising cashews, I have no doubt that I’d flunk it! Test a medical student on how to build a bridge, and he or she would most likely flunk it! Does that make the medical student any less competent? Of course not!

It takes all types of people to make this world work. People, including school-age children, have different interests and abilities. Some kids love reading and learn extremely well by reading in solitary. Some verbal learners grasp new information best in a social setting. Other people are kinesthetic learners, so they learn best by touching objects, feeling materials and simply “doing.” Then there are learners like me, who need visuals. I need to see it before I can learn it.

The trick is leading students in the direction that is right for them, whether this path requires advanced studies or training in a specific field. Some children will grow up to truck drivers, and people with the ability to skillfully handle big rigs are certainly needed. How else would we get our crops to market or supplies on shelves in our local grocery stores or in national discount chain stores? Some children will become lawyers. Others will chose to return to a family business.

A comment from a recent blog post entitled, “Career Ready,” really articulated some of my thoughts: 

“… The idea of going to college is beat into the heads of all my students to the point of absolute insanity. During forecasting, I always ask my sophomores how many are planning on going to college. Almost everyone raises their hand including kids with a GPA under 1.0, kids reading and/or doing math at a third grade level, and kids who absolutely hate school. We convince these kids to go to community college where almost all of them languish for a term or two before dropping out with barely any credits but with several thousand dollars of debt along with feeling like a complete failure.  

Due to budget cuts, our vocational classes at our high school have been cut to almost nothing. We had a great wood shop that was shut down during the recession. All the equipment was sold for a pittance and the room was converted to a community health center. Obviously, that’s a vital service but losing all that equipment and the room means we will never have a wood shop again. We had an amazing cooking program that is almost completely gone. Metals has been cut but is still around due to the bulldog determination of the metals teacher.

Kids who do great in these vocational classes but poorly in academic classes are now forced to take math and English intervention classes in addition to their regular math and English every day. Those two subjects now take up four out of the seven classes they take each semester. Now they’re talking about having a science intervention class for the kids who won’t be able to handle the new Next Generation Science Standards so they’ll end up hating science, as well as math and English.

How will they ever graduate if all they can take are core and intervention classes? All we’re doing is making kids despise school and learning.”

Another response that was posted reads:

“[Vocational students] are not any less smart, less capable, or less valuable than my college-bound hard-core honors students – they’re just using a different set of tools to travel a different sort of path.”

The key to discovering what path is right for them is helping children discover the love of achievement. We need to motivate and inspire, not merely test! We need to expect the best from children and help them see how they can be successful even if their plans don’t include a four-year college.