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With a new school year just beginning, my thoughts have turned once more to education. In regard to this subject Lynn Stoddard is one of my heroes! He is a veteran of teaching and parenting. While shepherding his own large flock of twelve children through the public schools of Utah, he was employed for 36 years as an elementary teacher and principal. In the decades since he “retired” he has tirelessly written and lectured on the urgent need to design a new system of public education based on God-inspired wisdom and modern research.
Stoddard believes that our public schools have managed to make the personal and social growth of students increasingly irrelevant. Why? Mostly because requirements from federal and state entities often prescribe and mandate rigid, “same size fits all” curriculum focused on obtaining good scores on standardized tests.
He suggests that no matter how hard teachers try to standardize students, children do not all learn how to read, write, and do math at the same age. He gives examples to show that standardization not only gives many children an early taste of failure, but squelches their curiosity and eagerness to learn.
Stoddard asks the thought-provoking questions: “Does it make any sense to measure success only by how early, or even how well students can read, write, and do math? Do not character and other human gifts, talents and qualities count?” He continues by quoting Einstein, who said: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Stoddard believes that if we want real progress in public education, we must place more value on things that are harder to measure, like curiosity, creativity, and character.
Common sense in education says that every child needs a minimal amount of specified knowledge to succeed in our complex world; so a common core curriculum has been created to insure that every child gets the needed knowledge and skills. This “common sense” approach in education, however, may be wrong. Human beings are not machines to be standardized like stoves or refrigerators, yet that is what our system is set up to do.
Standardization may have the opposite of the desired effect. Children come to us unique and one of a kind. They thrive when treated as individuals, (as God always does with His children). But they rebel, drop out, bully, become apathetic, or even commit suicide when we ignore their personhood and try to standardize them like machines.
He suggests an “uncommon sense” proposal: “Start now to design a system of public education that meets the needs of individual students. Stop trying to standardize children and instead, make sure every child can excel in something. Help students grow in their unique talents and gifts and feel they have an important contribution to make. In other words, stop educating for uniformity and start educating for variety.”
Stoddard says, “Unlike medicine, transportation, farming, architecture and other fields that are rapidly developing, public education has been stuck on a flat plateau of standardization, which is neither possible nor effective. We can move to a much higher level of teaching and learning if we start educating for human variety and human greatness instead.”
Stoddard proposes six cardinal principles essential when educating for human greatness:
- Value Positive Human Diversity and Cherish Every Student’s Uniqueness
- Draw Out and Develop Each Child’s Latent Talents
- Respect the Autonomy of the Individual by Restoring Freedom and Responsibility
- Invite Inquiry, Curiosity, and Hunger for Knowledge in the Classroom
- Support Professionalism as Teachers Live by these Principles
- Parents and Teachers Unite to Help Children Grow in Human Greatness
Addressing the problem of teacher shortages, Stoddard says,
In addition to low salaries and the feeling that they are not respected, teachers are not provided the freedoms that most other professions have. They are controlled by the mandatory curricula they are to teach, the standardized tests they are to administer, the curricula materials they are permitted to use and the time at which a certain topic should be taught. These controls are not found in any other profession. Why are teachers not trusted to determine the best learning experience for each of their students? What would happen if teachers were respected and given the salary and time to work with parents to help students find and develop their unique gifts and talents?
Granted, years of nonstop effort, including four impressive books, have not yet made a dent in the well-established standardized focus of public schools. However, some homeschoolers, as well as private and charter schools, have found amazing and fulfilling results by implementing these principles. Stoddard reports:
We recently discovered a large K-12 school in New York wherein the teachers show they believe every student is gifted. The main focus is to help every student discover their gifts and develop those gifts and follow their interests. The first priority of teachers is to look for and build on student strengths. As a result, the basic skills of reading, writing and math are learned not by a predetermined timetable, but when each student needs them to develop personal talents and interests. In this school, students experience a joy and enthusiasm for learning that is in sharp contrast to students in schools that concentrate on helping students overcome weaknesses and deficiencies.
Some of the benefits Stoddard promises when we set aside standardization and educate for individual strength are:
- Parents will be more involved.
- Teachers will perform as professionals.
- Students will be enthusiastically engaged.
- Each student will soar in what s/he knows and is good at doing.
- Students will learn basic skills better and at the right time and pace for each one.
- Drop outs of students and good teachers will be drastically reduced.
- Expensive testing will be eliminated, leaving more money for other things. Teachers will design their own tests.
- Students, parents, and teachers will grow in the powers of human greatness: Identity, Inquiry, Interaction, Initiative, Imagination, Intuition, and Integrity.
- Hundreds of subjects will be used as tools or a means of helping students, teachers. and parents grow in a huge variety of talents, gifts, powers, interests. and abilities.
- Classes will not have students who do not want to be there.
- Students will grow to reach their highest God-given potentials.
In my opinion Stoddard’s guidelines for educating for human greatness deserve to become a strong voice at the table of our current debate on the future of American education in the context of personal, social, and national goals.
This article was inspired by the untiring efforts of Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator and author of four books: Educating for Human Greatness, S.O.S. Student Oriented Schools, Opinions of a Maverick Educator—Less traveled Paths that Foster Student Greatness, and Redesigning Education: a Guide for Developing Human Greatness. He is co-founder of the Educating for Human Greatness Alliance He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.