One Size DOES NOT Fit All

Imagine if schools issued school uniforms in the same way that they issue education? Imagine if they decided on an average shoe size that students in that grade ought to be wearing and issued each child with a pair of shoes in that size?

It doesn’t take much effort to extend the metaphor to envisage the struggle of students for whom the shoe doesn’t fit. Students whose feet haven’t quite yet grown to the expected “norm” would swim about in their shoes, tripping and stumbling, not managing to keep up with the others; no matter how hard they tried. Those who happened to have larger feet would be in a different kind of discomfort; feet squished into a painful, blistering space that hobbled and injured them. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it? Of course schools would never do that – and parents would never allow it. So why do we allow a “one size fits all” approach to curriculum design, teaching and testing?

Multiple Intelligences

It was in 1983 that developmental psychologist, Howard Gardner, first outlined his theory of multiple intelligences, in his book,  Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner suggested that all people have different kinds of “intelligences.” He proposed that there are eight intelligences. He has subequently added a ninth and experts suggest there are even more. Here is a list of the TEN INTELLIGENCES that are now widely accepted:

  • verbal/linguistic
  • logical – mathematical
  • spatial
  • musical
  • body – kinesthetic
  • interpersonal
  • intrapersonal
  • ecological (added later)
  • existential (added later)

our current system of schooling only focuses on three of the intelligences

Theorists and practitioners warn against the danger of confusing “learning styles” with “intelligences”. Gardner himself finds the notion of “learning styles” incoherent and counterproductive as an approach to teaching. You can read his clarification on this matter in this excellent Washington Post article – click here  It doesn’t take an educational psychologist, however, to scan through the above list and realise that our current system of schooling only focuses on the first three intelligences. Sure, there’s is a smattering of physical education and sport for the sporty and, yes, many schools offer Music as a Matric subject, but what about the majority of learners? Where do the kids with exceptional interpersonal skills get a mark on their report cards? What about those with great existential intelligence? And please don’t wave those rather patronising primary school reports with numerical scores for “effort”, “attitude” and “behaviour” at me. Those are subjective points assigned by a teacher who, at the end of the first term, chasing a report deadline late at night, may even struggle to remember your child’s daily “effort”; unless the child is one of those who is “wearing shoes too big or too small” for them.

I know that there are some wonderful schools out there and some phenomenal teachers, who strive to present their lessons in ways that play to and foster all intelligences. However, there comes a time in every school year when all that good education stuff gets tossed, in order to plough through the syllabus and get the class “ready for the exam”. The EXAM!! Don’t even get me started on how our system of testing and assigning marks to the results thereof is falling incredibly short of accurately assessing people’s abilities and intelligence …

We can’t move mountains, but we can help create mountaineers.

What’s the solution, then? I guess it’s to continue to put pressure on the Department of Education to make some radical changes. I believe RADICAL change is necessary; not just the quadrennial curriculum changes that come with a whole lot of new acronyms … and a whole lot of new admin for teachers. The whole system needs to change. The whole approach to learning in The Knowledge Age has to shift. Our kids have shifted. Don’t believe me? Have a chat with one. Still not convinced? Give them your phone and then ask them ANYTHING!

For now, though, the onus is on parents and teachers to make sure that, within the confines and limitations of our school system, students are getting the necessary stimulation and variety of learning experiences in order to truly flourish; no matter their individual, strongest intelligences. We can’t move mountains, but we can help create mountaineers. (I reckon we should at least give the mountains a bit of a nudge, though. Don’t you?)

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