Educator: Judging A Fish Who Can’t Climb A Tree

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school, freedom

Albert Einstein famously said “everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it is stupid.”

Many libertarians use this quote as an example of how public education tries to place every student into the same nice, even-edged box; regardless of ability level, interests, or capacity for learning.

I would be a liar if I claimed that schools don’t have a set of standards that they expect every student to meet. But just because students are all expected to reach the same goals doesn’t equate to a refusal of recognition towards their best learning practices or unique talents.

The problem with this argument is that it goes against one of the basic concepts that a teacher learns when they are working towards being certified or obtaining their degree: differentiated instruction.

This concept, defined by the Glossary of Education Reform as “a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations [used] to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment,” dates back to 1889 when a Colorado teacher named Preston Search attempted to make a classroom where each student could learn at their own pace, which was contrary to the popular belief of how one should teach during that time.

With the start of achievement tests in the early 1900s, educators began realizing that students did have differences in intelligence and began rewriting textbooks geared towards self-instruction and self-paced learning.

Nowadays, differentiating instruction is taught in most, if not all, education programs.

A common example I have seen of differentiated instruction, in an elementary setting, has been the use of reading centers during language arts teaching. Essentially, each center has a different task to use a variety of techniques to give the students the opportunity to learn in variety of ways.

One center may be listening to an audio book (targeted towards auditory learners), then the students move on to a reading group where they discuss the books with peers (working towards comprehension through discussion for oral learners), then the students could move to small group work with the teacher, and the final station could be independent reading.

Using these centers, a teacher is able to provide opportunity for many different types of learners and make sure that fewer students get left behind.

Other techniques include trying to use students other senses, such as touch and hearing, in order to reinforce concepts.

Fake money, counting blocks, or letter magnets are great tools to use for students whose learning leans more towards physicality, and with the evolution of technology, more and more schools are able to use iPads, computers, and smart boards that have learning games and recorded lessons.

Technology also provides more opportunity for expression of creativity and independent learning, both for those who are ahead of the curve and those who need extra instruction to be at level with their peers.

In general, more schools in the modern era realize that the teachings styles of the past are not effective and that teaching should be more centered on student learning and less around the teacher delivering knowledge.

A survey by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program found in 2014 that more undergraduates were shifting to a “collaborative learning environment that more actively involves students in their learning.”

Students simply don’t have the focus to sit through a 50 minute lecture and retain all of that knowledge. Studies have shown that students have anywhere from a 10-18 minute span of focus before they begin to zone out.

It is because of this that differentiating one’s teaching styles and activities is essential to making sure learning occurs and that the knowledge is kept beyond the test.

Libertarians, unfortunately, fall into a collectivist trap when it comes to this aspect of teaching. It is true that teaching in the past was more centered around rote exercises and recitation and that every student was considered equally intelligent, but that is no longer the case.

It is essential and emphasized in teacher education programs that you have to account for having to adjust your instruction to fit all of your students, whether they have a disability, disorder, trauma, or are just unique in how they learn.

That’s why I am writing this series, hoping that more libertarians come to learn what teachers and the education system actually performs and move towards more accurate arguments and away from the speculative, conspiratorial sounding arguments that frequent libertarian rhetoric.

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Luke Henderson

Since joining the Libertarian Party in 2016, Luke Henderson has been active in the liberty movement through journalism and political activism. Luke is an educator, composer of fine art and electronic music, and also contributes to Think Liberty, Antiwar.com and the Libertarian Coalition.