Thursday, February 9, 2017

Impersonal Personalization

Imagine this is your child's classroom.
Your child sits at a desk, alone in the room. No teacher ever enters the room. An aide comes into the room periodically to give your child a quiz, or a worksheet. Your child fills out the sheet, the aide scores it. Maybe the aide gives it back to your child to do again, but the aide can't explain anything. All the worksheets and quizzes are written so that the aide, or anyone, really, can correct them. Eventually, the aide takes the paper out of the room. A few moments pass, and then the aide returns with a new standardized worksheet or quiz.

If you go to the school to see what the heck is going on, you may follow the aide to another room, maybe a huge room. In that room there are a few hundred of stacks of worksheets and quizzes. The aide brings in a completed one, and the worker in that room looks at the results and based on those, selects another paper to be carried back to the student.

"Where did all these stacks come from?" you ask.

The worker explains. "They were all written out years ago by some teacher, or at least someone expert in writing worksheets."

"Well, can I meet that person? Can I talk to the person who created all these stacks? Can I ask her how she makes sure they are right for my child?"

"Ha," laughs the worker. "She's long gone. She moved on as soon as she finished writing these out. She's never met your kid. She's never even laid eyes on your kid. Excuse me a minute." The aide comes back with a new paper. The worker scans it, looks around at a few stacks of fresh papers, grabs one, muttering, "Well, this comes as close as anything we've got."

"Comes close!?!"

"Hey, we don't have infinite assignments in here. And we stacked these up long before your kid even started school."

You think of your child, sitting alone in a room, completing sheet after sheet after sheet. "This is a terrible way to educate a child. This is a terrible way to run a school."

"Yeah," the worker replies. "I can't disagree. But just wait. Later we'll load all of these worksheets and quizzes onto a mainframe, and the computer will replace my aide and, well, me, too. But it'll be fast and shiny and computery and people will think it's genius." And he pointed to a stack of files in the corner. "And we'll do a much better job of keeping a file all about your kid."

"Honestly, do you think people will stand for that?"

"Sure. We'll call it personalized learning or competency based education. It'll be a huge hit. Just wait and see."


  1. If you ever watched "Doctor Zhivago", you may recall the many occasions when Yuri looks up to the sky, and the theme music swells. Without taking a cue from that novel/movie, I, too, tend to look up at the sky (even when I was much younger and living in a major urban area) when life was too much. It was often too much.

    For the sake of our health, for the sake of the health of our students, for the sake of our neighbor, we can all find that transcendent moment and realize that even in our current reality, we can spend time without fear, burning wishes, regrets, resentments, rage or even desires. Living in a state of frustration and rage actually fosters its own mood that is an extra (unnecessary) layer on top of the unpleasant reality. That mood increases the anxiety and feeling of dread. Bad moods rarely make a bad reality better.

    There is plenty to worry about. The "what ifs" are countless.
    We all think we know which "what if" scenario is coming down the pike the fastest. But as parents, as friends, as spouses, as teachers, as citizens, we cannot thrive living in a state of "what if"?

    Even a humble shrub planted in a mini-island of an urban-sprawl-mall parking lot has some antidote to the poison of disgust and dread that we carry around. You might be surprised how much sweetness there is among the little sparrows feeding there. The shrub itself is precious, eeking out its lovely existence in such an unlikely environment.

    Better yet, we can come up with our own melody that can swell in our drown out a few of the horror scenarios that play non-stop in our minds.

    This isn't meant to be preachy or hokey. Just a sincere reflection. Not really intended to be broadcast to the world or posted here. Just a response to all these posts here and everywhere. We do have our health to consider. As a person who has dealt with life threatening illness, I have to take my own advice. "What if" is a natural game to play, but too much of it is dangerous to our health. Refusing to play "what if" doesn't mean a person is an ostrich or naive, either. We do need to decide how much time we spend on negativity and dread and put limits on it.

    But, considering your blog title, I guess "crankiness" is the heart of the matter here. I guess crankiness is the means of getting the message across, effecting the desired change. I'm just a little concerned that there may be some unintended consequences of such a strategy.

    1. There is no "what if" is happening. It's happening and parents don't know it's happening because they have been deleted from the equation. By the time parents really catch on, it will be too late and sliding down the slippery slope.

    2. It's true that we have to think of our health. I, too, have faced life-threatening illnesses, and, being a natural worrywort, I have had to learn to let go of some things that stress me. To me, feeling a warm breeze on my face is utter contentment.

      Especially now that I'm retired, I often think that if I never watched TV or used a computer, I wouldn't be aware of anything that's happening outside of a 20-mile radius of where I live, and what difference would it really make to me? Yet, at the same time, I feel I need to be aware because things that are happening can impact my children and my children's children. So I try to find a balance between being aware but not stressing over things I can't do anything about at the moment.

      This particular post of Peter's does not seem to me to have a "cranky" tone at all; I think it shows clearly and objectively what CBE would actually be like. But I think you're talking more in general about how frustrating things are and how it can affect a sensitive and thinking person.

  2. Shouldn't "aid" in this context be "aide"?

  3. I think you could make the same argument about the lack of "differentiation". When all kids are getting the same worksheet, it is yet another step down from where we need to be - or what our kids deserve. Thanks for posting.