Personalizing Education

Kids hate school.

But look, don’t take my word for it — it’s one of the most engrained stereotypes in our society. Take a look at basically any children's cartoon, for example. Arthur sits looking out the window longing for the bell. The kids from “Recess” plan clever escapes around the tyranny of teachers. Have you ever seen a TV sit-com where a child enjoyed school? Even the characters that represent the brainy go-getter (think Hermione Granger) are characterized by their high levels of stress and anxiety in regards to school.

And why shouldn’t they? K-12 education is all quantity of content with no quality of context. There isn’t a single person on this earth that enjoys work for the sake of work. If a kid wants to be a florist, the teacher says they need to learn physics. When is it time to stop projecting our own senses of self-worth, our own expectations, and our own interests on our children?

As the above comic illustrates, we’re using the same system for everyone What we really need to do is to look at students as individuals. Not everyone has the same skill sets and goals, and to think that a cookie-cutter education for 12–14 years of one’s life is optimal is just ignorant.

Educators are asking more and more often — how we can get kids to enjoy school? Typically, the answers run quite shallow. Maybe instead of constantly asking how we can get kids to enjoy school, we should begin asking how to make school so that kids enjoy it. When does it become more about creating a system that inspires participants to drive their own education instead of make the the system drive them?

Enter: Personalized Learning.

Personalized learning’s goal is to directly fuse the “what” with the “why” and the “how.” There is no point to developing knowledge without application. A good simile is that traditional education is like a body builder in the gym. You focus on how your body looks without being concerned about how it performs. At the end of the day, you have big muscles, but you can’t play basketball or ski to save your life. Personalized learning is like functional fitness — you train your body in the context of performing a specific action, such as a lateral movement or jump height.

In 2015, a report was published by the RAND (research and development corporation) that showed the superior results of personalized educations compared to the traditional model. What’s more, the teachers in these learning environments were much more likely to adopt modern technology applications in their classroom. Teachers also reported that by adopting this model, there was a better platform to help students develop non-academic skills that were relative to life after high school as well. By focusing on a student as a human being rather than a statistic, there was a lot more flexibility to be found in the system as well.

One common argument to the implementation of personalized learning is that it’s just simply not reasonable on the financial level. Many schools, however, such as the Iredell-Statesville school district of Statesville, N.C. are finding a solution to that problem. The district has one of the lowest funding per pupil in the country. Or at least, they did before taking matters into their own hands. In 2014, the district took the initiative to apply for the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” grant — and won. Race to the top is a program put in place in 2012 that is built to assist school districts needing financial support. By focusing on personalizing education, the district is making good use of their money. They have since began to adopt much more modern technologies in the classroom and have hired additional faculty and consultants to help develop the program.

At the end of a K-12 education, do you want your kid to be a muscly egotistical meathead, or a star athlete? I think the answer is clear. Our paradigm for education is completely out of whack. By focusing more on the “how” and the “why”, we will all have a better appreciation for the “what.”

Our society can become a rich and fulfilling culture of high level problem solvers and passionate go-getters instead of a zombie nation of pencil pushers. All it takes is the courage to open yourself up to the truth — at the end of the day, you can only learn something yourself. Others can be there to assist you, but an individual’s education is up to them.

We can stop treating symptoms and start looking at the underlying problem, or we can keep getting more of the same. The change starts now.

Or not.

It’s up to you to decide.

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