Op-Ed

Every child can learn — just not in the same way

Marty Solomon
Marty Solomon

One night a man was out in the street searching for something. A passerby stopped and asked if he could help. The man answered that that he had lost his keys. The passerby asked more specifically where the keys were lost? The man said he lost them about a block down the street.

Puzzled, the passerby asked, then why are you looking for the keys here? The man said, “The light is better here.”

Unfortunately, our schools have also been looking in the wrong place for the keys to developing youngsters for the future. They have mistakenly been looking for a good score on a once-a-year standardized test as the key. But instead, the holy grail of education should be to fully develop children in all their dimensions and potential.

In 2001 legislation called No Child Left Behind transformed schools across America into testing factories with a laser focus on scoring well on annual standardized tests. This was supposed to close the academic achievement gap between poor and middle-class children and for 16 years, 13,500 public school districts and 6,000 charter schools have been trying to do just that.

And guess what? Virtually none have succeeded. This is like trying to teach every child to dunk a basketball. Frankly, it isn’t going to happen. What’s the definition of insanity?

We know that youngsters are all different, even twins. Some are taller, some shorter and some luckier. On average, unlucky kids from poverty start school far behind middle-class children who often already know letters, numbers and some even how to read and write.

The academic achievement gap that was there in the first grade more often persists throughout all of schooling because each year both groups enhance their learning skills and the gap remains. Consequently, we should expect to see a natural difference. But that’s OK because it’s normal.

Harvard professor Howard Gardner taught that we all have multiple intelligences: spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic and logical. Each person is probably quite good at one or more and not so good at others. But that’s OK.

The job of educational institutions should be to detect, encourage and hone those intelligences in children that excite and enthuse them and help kids improve their ability to use those intelligences to become successful human beings, able to live a fulfilling, satisfying life. Schools should not be cookie-cutter machine shops attempting to make each kid score X on a test.

Thomas Corley author of “Rich Habits,” spent five years studying 233 self-made millionaires. He found that 77 percent were not exceptional students and more than a third underperformed academically.

Robert Kiyosaki’s book, “Why ‘A’ Students Work for ‘C’ Students,” urges parents not to be obsessed with their kids’ grades and focus instead, on concepts, ideas and helping children find their special gift. He says: A students will become professors, B students will fill leadership positions but C students will be the innovators and creators of new ideas, businesses, applications and products.

Education should not be about scoring a top grade on a standardized test. There are more important things. We need to help kids develop lifelong critical thinking skills by more time spent in subjects like geography, civics, history, chemistry, music and literature. And, as important, if not more so, are resilience, compassion, kindness, morals, work ethic, empathy, manners, grit and character.

Shouldn’t we focus more on these important aspects of life and less on a once-a-year test?

Maybe if we did, instead of searching in the wrong place, we might be able to help all children reach their full potential, whatever that may be, and we will be on the road to finding our lost keys.

Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky professor, can be reached at mbsolomon@aol.com.

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