Commentary: We should standardize automobiles, not students

Teachers need to stop grading student work and instead help students evaluate their own work as part of the learning process.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Bennion Elementary School fourth grader Kelly Tumusifu works through a spelling excercise. The classroom works in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program at the school. The program is designed to get students thinking of completing a degree at a four-year college at an early age.

I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture.

Albert Einstein

We have known, for a long time, that it’s impossible to standardize students; yet we still keep trying to do it.

After the “Nation at Risk “report in 1983 there have been four major attempts to improve the factory system. “No Child Left Behind”, “Race to the Top” and “Common Core” have all left a trail of damaged students and demoralized teachers.

The proposed “Education Elevated” Strategic Plan for Utah is the latest plan to standardize students. It adds “insult to injury” by asking teachers to do a better job of improving SAT scores, raising grade-point-averages, enrolling more students in advanced courses and increasing graduation rates.

Let’s get serious. The education system needs a major re-construction, with systematic radical changes:

• Value and respect each student as a unique individual.

Personalizing education to the interests of each student will decrease bullying, suicides and make it possible for each student to attain a much higher level of learning and accomplishment.

Teachers need to stop grading student work and instead help students evaluate their own work as part of the learning process. Grades are a poor indication of what children have learned and what they can learn. They also create unnecessary competition and the urge to obtain a higher grade than someone else. They do not assess emotional learning, social learning, tactile learning or any other form of learning.

Elimination of grades allows children to learn from a variety of possible areas, to learn in their own style of learning and to learn cooperatively with others.

• Eliminate all pre-determined areas of study.

All learning is of value, and when it is determined by students it has much greater value. When students select their own areas of study they quickly discover the need for basic skills, reading, manipulation of numbers and the value of writing. The teacher can assist, guide, encourage and motivate, acting as a counselor respecting internal motivation to learn.

• Establish all areas of study as valuable.

Some children may wish to study animals, others may have an interest in drawing pictures, some may want to build things and a few may wish to learn a musical instrument. All forms of learning have value and should be encouraged.

Human development is promoted by an infinite number of human talents, abilities and gifts. Children thrive when provided a wide variety of learning possibilities rather than a limited, narrow group of subjects.

• Make teaching a profession.

Individuals now enter teaching believing that they are professional educators respected by legislators and the general public. What they find, upon obtaining their first position, is that they are really clerks, controlled by legislation, school board policies, school district rules and regulations, ad infinitum. This is certainly not how we treat professionals in any other profession. Unfortunately, in the factory system, 50 percent of those who enter teaching leave the profession in a five-year period.

For those who see this as being too radical, please explain the reasons for staying with the current system. The “factory” education system must be exchanged for a student-centered one led by professionals who should be valued and highly respected. It is time to implement an education system that values individual students, permits teachers to be professionals and that results in a much more highly educated society. Do the Utah Legislature and State Board have the courage to do this?

M. Donald Thomas

M. Donald Thomas is a former Salt Lake City superintendent of schools and now a national education consultant. mariothonas1@yahoo.com

Lynn Stoddard

Lynn Stoddard has many years of experience as a teacher, principal, author and conference speaker. lstrd@yahoo.com

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