This month I’m proud to present to you a guest post from my friend, fellow writer, and gifted advocate Celi Trépanier. I think you’re going to love the metaphor she’s chosen to illustrate the worth of progressive education. I know I do!

Coughing, congestion and fever—symptoms that can send us to the doctor’s office, and so you go. You are ushered in and Dr. Stan Dardize’s nurse notes your symptoms and sends you to exam room 15. You open the door to a large room filled with about 25 other coughing, congested and feverish people. A stack of pre-filled, pre-scripted prescriptions is given to a nearby person by the nurse and told to pass one to each person in the room.

You and everyone else received the prescription for the same medication.

Then a second stack of papers titled “What to do for Cough, Congestion and Fever” are distributed—a list of of identical, standard behaviors meant to help you and all the others relieve symptoms of your illness. The bell rings and the nurse reminds you and all of the coughing, congested and feverish people in room 15 to fill your prescription, follow the given instructions and return exactly one week from today—all together—at the same time. She then shows you all the exit door and you file out coughing and shivering.

Ignoring preexisting conditions, not knowing what medications you are currently taking and disregarding any unidentified, co-existing conditions, the lot of you are treated the same, given the same instructions and expected to achieve the same results.

This one-size-fits-all approach to medicine is impersonal, clearly illogical and unthinkable. Treating every patient the same is sure to be ineffective, right? So, why do we educate our children this way?

Of course, the analogy above seems pretty absurd to us because we know all these patients are different despite the three common medical complaints of coughing, congestion and fever. We know there could be other medical factors that would make their medical treatment different from the other coughing, feverish patients in room 15.

Optimal, personalized and appropriate medical care should be a priority. And so should educating our children. It should be a priority.

Just like medical care, education is crucial for every person in order to have a sufficient quality of life. Education is needed to advance our world, solve our problems and bring about innovations. Shouldn’t it be personalized and not standardized?

Our traditional school system educates a group of students, the same-age, in one classroom, passively absorbing the same information, utilizing the same curriculum, but producing widely varied results. I imagine Dr. Stan Dardize’s coughing, congested and feverish patients, although treated with the same medical treatment, all had varying results—some got better, some got worse and some stayed the same.

These patients all expected to get well, not stay the same or get worse. As parents, isn’t this what we expect with education? For our children to do well? Not stagnate or fall behind?

Unlike traditional education, progressive or alternative education educates the whole child using methods and materials personally suited to that one child thus providing that child with the just-right tools to do well and to excel in his field of interest and talent.  Also, a progressive education teacher needs to have the space and freedom to develop personal relationships with her students so that she can create a personal education plan that suits the whole child.

Tailoring a child’s education to meet his unique needs and interests is better than a one-size-fits-all approach, and many traditional school teachers do try to individualize instruction, but it is next to impossible with the onslaught of standardization and grade-level expectations which are required of schools today.

When we consider how we learn in ordinary situations outside of a traditional school, it is so dissimilar to the ways we expect kids to learn in traditional school today. Helping our child learn to ride a bike, muddling through building a birdhouse, learning about a new travel destination, figuring out our new cell phone, understanding a friend’s political views—we read, discuss or just jump in and just do it. Learning in these situations is active, engaging and motivating which also helps us to retain the newly-learned skills and information. I don’t think memorization of isolated facts can claim any such retention of information.

Just because we’ve always done it this way does not make it the right way—not for every child.

About Celi: 

Celi TrépanierCeli Trépanier was born and raised in south Louisiana. She grew up with a strong Cajun French heritage, eventually married a French-Canadian, and has three wonderful sons. She currently resides in central Iowa with her husband and youngest son.

Celi has a vast and varied background in education. She received her B.S. from Loyola University in New Orleans and her M.Ed. from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, then taught in Louisiana, Ontario, and Alabama, in public schools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops.

Celi became a passionate advocate for gifted children after tiring of her family’s painful battles with traditional schools and the misunderstanding and neglect of gifted students. Through adversity came her passion, her strength, and her voice. She advocates for the educational, emotional, and social needs of all gifted children, and her dream is for schools and society to one day understand the truths about giftedness in children. Her writing centers on her advocacy for gifted children and her own journey with her three gifted sons. Her emotional and sometimes pointed posts can be found on her website, Crushing Tall Poppies. You can follow Celi on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.