SO I posted some thoughts to the SLATE.com crowdsourcing project on what 21st century schools should look like. Unfortunately their format was highly limited in space, allowing only for short bursts. I will post here, over the next few days, the rest of the “thought behind the bursts” – the full justification – for why those bursts (ideas) make sense.
Element 1: Individualized timeframes
We start with a basic fact about living organisms: they are all different in their pace of development. That package of bean seeds you plant in your garden tells you that the seeds will germinate in anywhere from 8-16 days. That’s a 100% variation. So the plants begin to sprout on different days (and some not at all) then they flowers at different times and bear fruit on different days too.
Similarly, those three maple trees on the street, all planted at the same time when the neighborhood was established, all change color and drop their leaves at different times. They are the same age and grow under the same conditions, but one can be without leaves while the one next to it remains mostly green.
What we know about how living things develop is this: we understand the linear process, but the timeline is less predictable, less exact. Yes, the bean plants need to flower before fruit will appear: without question. The leaves need to change color before they separate from the branch: undoubtedly. In the same way and for the same reasons, a fetus needs to develop a brain stem before it can develop organs, a child needs to walk before she can run, and speak before he can reason.
So we understand the order of human development, but not the exact timing of it. Pediatricians can’t consistently tell us the precise day a child will be born on, nor when they will take their first steps or speak their first words. It doesn’t work that way. Yet, somehow it was decided that we could assign a specific amount of time that it would take all children to learn how to read, add, or grasp the fine points of literary analysis. Put this way the latter seems wrong-headed on its face,
How long does it take to learn to ride a bike? Play tennis? There aren’t answers to these questions. The answer is: it takes the time that it takes you and that’s all there is to it. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad, better or worse- it just is.