What we often find happening in schools is that educators love to talk the talk of snowflakes every child a unique and precious individual, while continuing to walk the walk of ice cubes every child molded to fit a uniform pattern. The emergent nature of a more student-centered approach to education requires that we relinquish our obsession with controlling the end results and support the unique pattern of each individual child to develop. This demands trust in growth, respect for the child, and faith in the process.
Do we have the moral and political will to develop atmospheres that truly nurture positive human differences?
All over America there are outstanding teachers who swim against the current of an imposed curriculum in order to help students develop like snowflakes. David was a student who had a lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter. Since none of his required courses seemed to fit into what he needed, he became disenchanted with school and began missing classes.
A caring and perceptive teacher saw what was happening and arranged with the local fire chief and school administration for David to spend time learning from the firefighters at the nearby station. To make a long story short, David got the education he needed without graduating from high school and went on to become a highly qualified firefighter and fire safety specialist.
The sad part of this story is that the teacher who saved David and some others from falling through the cracks lost favor with rigid policymakers and curriculum specialists. He found the pressure to produce "ice cubes" too great, and so decided to resign and do other things. It was a tragic loss to the profession. How many students have suffered over the years because of the loss of creative teachers like this? How many adults have talents lying dormant inside of them because they attended a school system that was obsessed with having uniform graduation requirements?
We have a decision to make in American education. Are we going to continue trying to force young people into a standardized, uniform mold, or are we going to create the conditions for individual greatness to flourish? In other words, do we want ice cubes or snowflakes? Our answer makes all the difference.
Lynn Stoddard, a retired, long-time educator, argues for making curriculum fit a great variety of students. Jim Strickland is a teacher and advocate of Student Centered Education in Marysville, Wash.