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I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, EdTech, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of the Crush School Series of Books, which help students understand how their brains process information and learn. I also wrote The Power of Three: How to Simplify Your Life to Amplify Your Personal and Professional Success, but be warned that it's meant for adults who want to thrive and are comfortable with four letter words.

Personalization, Standardization, And Why Education Is No Equalizer

 Personalization, Standardization, And Why Education Is No Equalizer
Injustice is telling them education is the key while you continue to change the locks. Education is no equalizer. Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream. So wake up. Wake up.
— Donovan Livingston

The superintendent stands on the artificial turf field in front of a crowd of teachers sitting in the bleachers. Mic in his hand, he's talking about personalization of education. 

The speech goes something like: We need to work to do this or that and ensure that every student attending our schools receives world class education he or she can take with them and use to be successful in their future.

It's hot and humid as you know what. It's the end of August and we're about to go to our prospective buildings and start working on unpacking the standards so we can smoothly transition into standards-based grading with hopes of delivering better common core curriculum which will hopefully lead to better scores on the standardized assessments. 

But we want to personalize the educational experience for every student! the argumentative part of me exclaims in my head. The sup is talking about it right now. Why are we not jumping on that train right away? Why are we about to split and work on the usual status quo bullshit we'll just throw away for something better that comes along a few years from now? The status quo initiatives that protect entrenched interests and perpetuate inequity?

Yep. I said it. Standardization of education protects the privileged while the underserved get the shaft. The official story though, a piece of well crafted fiction, will always be that standardizing education creates a level playing field for all. 

Cause I ain’t got a pencil

You might have seen this powerful poem written by a Baltimore student.

 I ain't got a pencil

It's easy to see Joshua's poem as an example of how poverty affects students' ability to learn, and many school districts have responded to the problem of poverty by providing training to teachers so they can better recognize inequity in the classroom.

But there's more to this story. While the system appears to be hard at work on understanding of socioeconomic issues and inclusion of diversity in education it continues to insist on using a one-size-fits-all approach to measure student achievement. It even tells its students what pencil to use. It better be a non-mechanical wooden number two.

While appearing as heading toward progress, the system is built to punish those who don’t know how to wield the number two pencil. In other words, students who do not understand how to do well on standardized tests or resist them are left behind all the while those instructed on how to play the game well and to comply to the oft-outdated and unreasonable demands thrive.

Students are not allowed to prove what their knowledge and skills via other means; perhaps means that allow them to use their strengths.

Maybe that black boy is a great speaker and can communicate his world view and how he will be successful in the future orally.

Maybe that Mexican girl is great with her hands and can show how she can build a robot or make art or cook using her hands to prove that she will indeed be a productive member of society.

We call those things electives in education. Ironically, content standards at all levels dictate what classes that boy and that girl must take to be successful.

But the appearance of choice is no choice at all.

Electives are child's play. This is not real education our children are taught. There’s only one way and it involves a pencil and a series of multiple choice questions based on standards. Each question can only be answered in one way. You’re either right or wrong. There’s no middle ground. No compromise. No room for those who don’t understand how the system works or resist its exclusive ways. 


Why do educational powers that be starting at the federal level publicly talk up initiatives such as reducing educational inequity and increasing opportunity via initiatives such as personalization but then go back to working hard at preserving the rules and regulations that are at the heart of educational inequity and social injustice?

The state and district educational powers play the let's minimize the achievement gap game well too; hiring consultants and offering culturally responsive teaching training. Nothing wrong with that, but upon careful examination those who choose to open their eyes see the charade. 

Personalization is the educational equivalent of fake news. 

Aren't "standardization" and "personalization" polar opposites?

Meanwhile, we are encouraged to build relationships with students so as many as possible comply and buy into the status quo model of achievement that involves taking tests that measure their skills in using information that is mostly irrelevant to life outside of the confines of school.

Those tests are then upheld as indicators of future success, but it is an artificial measure created to keep the privileged in power and those with the wrong birthright in their rightful place. The few that undoubtedly achieve do so through compliance and acceptance of the rules and regulations established long ago; updated for the modern times but nevertheless continually upheld by the educational system of today.

It's a well oiled machine the haves have developed to keep most of the have nots having little. You could say it's brilliant if it wasn't so inhumanely premeditated. 

So as I sit in my classroom writing this and thinking about the impending doom of the standardized test season, the Black History Month, and the still absent district action (not talk) regarding personalizing education for all our students I realize we are on our own. 

I know. I know. The sups are just mid-level supervisors doing what the uncle tells them to do. That summer speech was almost inspiring though. 

So we can listen to our superintendents telling us more stories about personalization while they budget millions for standardization for the modern age which has always been the government's grand design to perpetuate institutional prejudice and inequity or we can teach our students the right things.

We can show them how to attain knowledge they need so they can do it whenever they need it. We can focus on building skills that increase their chances of success. We can teach them to think for themselves.

You have the power to change lives. Use it often so they can change the world.


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