For decades we have been trying to push a cart with the nose of a horse.
The horse is strength, freedom, individuality, and desire to run unfettered—to take an idea and explore it to its logical end, to self-direct, to be free to empower your own discovery, and, as such, your own education. The horse wants to run, and it can pull a sizable cart while doing so.
The cart is full of the basics we need—computational fluency, reading skills, order of operations, definitions of literary elements so that we may speak intelligently about these ideas —all of the standards.
Yes, the standards are in the cart. All of those important, testable, measurable aspects of education are not the horse—they are the cart. Mainstream education puts them first—it has been doing so for decades. That approach may have met with more success when creativity and innovation were not such significant aspects of our culture. But now, we have a lot of disgruntled horses with sore noses, many of whom would rather just stop pushing the cart forward. Many of whom have given up because they are tired and see no point. The horses who are still moving forward, those obedient and unquestioning horses strong enough to push on, are moving at a standardized pace that we set for them. They could be moving much faster, could be flying—pulling their testables and measurables in the cart behind them, using them as needed. The top 5% of students who land in gifted programs have successfully pushed their carts fast enough that they get to fly, despite the order of things, but even they could have gone much further with more purpose had they been allowed.
The inability to fly feels stifling to young humans. They have zeal for learning and spirit for life when they enter school, then slowly their zeal is stamped out. They know no better. They don’t question the system until they are much older, but already tired of pushing their cart without realizing it should be pulled. Despondency is the result. We have millions of brilliant and creative minds who are just playing along, going through the standards, not knowing that they are capable of much more.
The concept that each of our students must fit into a desired outcome or reach a designated level at a specific point in time is terribly flawed. Instead of serving their purpose, standards and benchmarks have become an entity we serve at all costs. Our educational system pours resources into the students who fall below these benchmarks; it creates special programs for those who rise above them. Mainstream education is so intently focused on these outcomes, that it too often ignores the well-known and solid educational practices of experiential learning, hands-on approaches, differentiation, individualization and student-centered strategies—all proven best practices. You will not meet a knowledgeable teacher in this country who disagrees that current best practices are the best ways to reach and teach children. However, our traditional educational culture of standard-based sameness is not conducive to their success, nor is it convenient to implement them within our current rigid paradigms. Intrinsic motivation is all one needs to pack the cart full of important information. On the other hand, innovative, flexible, creative programs have beautiful horses flying toward uncharted destinations and new territories.