The End of Average: Is It Time?

No one is average.

 

Point blank. The whole point of the book that I currently read, The End of Average by Todd Rose,  and my current thinking is simply that average does not exist. At first I could not grapple with this concept because my whole world is dependent upon average. I had to read this book, pause, write things down, rethink, question, scribble notes, and in the end it started to sink in. Below is my stream of thoughts woven into a semi coherent blog post.

 

  1. There is no such thing as an average student because we just have too many variables as a human. You can replace the word student with any other term such as athlete, kid, musician.
  2. One of the key ideas that constantly swirled in my head was how much we try to rise above average. We constantly try to seek the “average” and do just enough to rise above to not be average or point fingers at those who are below average.
  3. There has been so much talk in education about moving away from the industry style model of teaching and learning in schools. We know this is based on a system that has been ingrained in factories for over a hundred years. However, despite a shift with makerspaces, deeper learning, and project based learning we still have the tenets of averagarianism where we still evaluate, sort,and manage students by comparing them to the average. We do this in PLC, team meetings, standardized data, state tests, grades, and pretty much anything else we do in school.

As we push for personalized learning and student voice in schools we must ask ourselves, “Where does individuality come into place in a standardized system?”

 

You know what I will answer that for you. It doesn’t. I cannot exist.

 

So why do we continue to fool ourselves that operating in a school system based on Taylorism where preparation of a mass amount of students is to develop average workers instead of developing a system of geniuses? We still use the Gary Plan system in many schools to mimic the factory setting. We still work to make sure every student obtains a standardized average education – you know, teaching to the middle. Or I mean creating some extension opportunities outside of the school day because those needs cannot be met during the 8 hours students are already in school. Why can’t we simply do more of this during the 8 hours they are at school? Is that not enough time? At what point do we begin to stop doing things the same way because it is just the way it is or is simply cannot be done? Oh I know….. because to do anything unlike others would go against the grain of the factory model of average.

 

Still don’t believe me? Then why do we rank students? Why do we look at data and say, “Well on average this many got this question right….”

 

This leads me to the most important statement of the book

 

“We all strive to like everyone else, only better.”

 

Let that sink in…….

 

Sinking in some more

 

And some more

 

You see we squeeze out the passion for individuality. I do it as a parent despite trying not to. My five year old stated the other night that she wants to grow up to be an artist of everything! How great is that? I  love it and yet I know that this beautiful goal and aspiration will be sucked out of her soul to do something that makes the economy float, to blend in like everyone else, and to avoid being different. To be different has become taboo, an obstacle, a headache to those that just want to be like everyone else. The majority of the world “is clearly set up so the system always matter more than you.”

 

One of the mind opening examples in the book for me was the question comparing two men and asking, “Which man is bigger?” In the photo one is taller while one has a larger belly and other variables(just read this book already!).

 

The question leads to the answer that there is indeed no answer. There are simply too many variables and therefore we cannot rank them because of the jaggedness principle. According to the author this principle is defined as not applying a one dimensional thinking to understand something that is complex and “jagged”. We can argue that the question above has too many variable to come to one conclusion. The same holds true for IQ. Two people could arrive at same score but for different reasons. We see this time and time again when we do summative assessments in our classrooms and projects. One thing we could do is look at one specific standard and even then it is tough because there are so many variables that allow students to either achieve or come up short.

 

As posed in the book, a question that I yet don’t have an answer for is “If human abilities are jagged, why do so many psychologists, educators, and business executives continue to use one dimensional thinking to evaluate talent?|

 

I thought about it. I pondered what my answer would be. And then I started to dive into more about statistics(which I am not great at). Todd Rose discusses how a .4 correlation is really just explaining 16% of the behavior of the two dimensions. So when we look at the work of Hattie how impactful are these numbers really? I am not suggesting that he is all wrong, but what is the great impact of 16%? Not much, unless you are once again looking for the average to do average thinking to do average work.

 

So what do we do? What are some answers? I don’t want this to be a post that all I do is complain. Complaining is easy and actually these are not complaints but my ideas typed up from the side margins.

 

One idea I loved from the book is IGN and how it operated Code-Foo. Instead of looking to do the same old average system of resumes(I hate resumes by the way) they had applicants submit a statement of passion and then apply their knowledge by answering four questions on coding. What they were looking for were people eager to learn and be part of something special. I think the same idea could be applied in education. If I could run an innovation lab where I could connect students to things they love doing and in the process cover the “requirements” that we think every student needs to know. The hard part to all of this is that the people in education have not been trained, educated, and hired to be thinking this way. We have been hired to meet the average, to follow order, instructions, and be like minded. It is who we are and who we have trained to be. To break this system would require new training, and restructure of higher education teaching courses, and a whole new model of how schools operate, look, and feel. These ideas are calling for a rebranding of education across the nation from the ground up.

 

I believe that we must not scrap everything. The world does not work that way. What we need to do is question why we keep doing the same. Why do we do things when we don’t have a why? We just allow ourselves to follow a path and we don’t know the destination in which we are headed. We must be able to think for ourselves.

 

If we know as a parent, coach, and teacher that we develop, grow, change, and adapt through our own process based on our physical, mental, moral, and social aspects of our lives then why don’t we allow our students to develop on their own path? We constantly try to get the below average caught up to average and let those above just float along. If we have children of our own we see the flaws in these systems and do everything we can as parents to build upon the skills and help them develop. Is it any wonder that outside companies and organizations are raking in millions to meet our kids needs?

 

I cannot tell you how many times my wife(8th grade algebra teacher) has come home blown away by all the methods in which students solve a problem. It is amazing to listen to their ideas and see how they came to their conclusion. Why can we not allow more of this to happen in schools? This is what I want to solve and come up with more solutions. Why do we care if it takes one child two weeks to solve a problem or master a standard while another takes two years? Do you care if your doctor took 4,6,8 years to earn their degree? No, you care if they can perform to the highest level to keep us alive and healthy. Same is true for a variety of things. The headache is how does this look in schools? We cannot have 1000 different pathways going on in any one school. Perhaps we leave the Gary Plan operations behind and move away from age specific grade levels? Just a thought.

 

We must work to push for new methods of operation. We still work in a world that rewards those above the “average”. We provide a class rank of one metric that allows for scholarships and access to elite colleges. Until higher education changes their one dimensional value of student’s there is little that can be done. We must work to change the system. What if…

 

What if…

  • Schools offered credentials where students could earn legit certificates of learning in various skillsets?
  • We got rid of grades altogether since they mean nothing(one dimension of compliance and not learning)
  • Created schools within schools to allow students to begin focused learning on what they want to learn
  • Developed a unified badge system that could be accepted by higher institutions where students had to prove their work and showcase they can actually create what they claim.
  • Classes were not based on seat time, but competency proficiency

 

What if schools eliminated the mindset of average and truly changed methods to meet the needs of all learners and pushed them to be their best? What if we stopped striving to be like everyone else and got back to what made America amazing in the first place and allow individual creativity and flare to take hold again?

 

Please read the book The End of Average by Todd Rose to understand where my brain is going. This book has made me rethink my whole perspective on life and what exactly it is we should be striving to accomplish.

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