The Myth of "Normal"
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Overview: Welcome back, education enthusiasts! In this post, I will be unraveling the myth of “normal” in America’s schools.
Note: Please watch the video linked above! It is an amazing resource and Ted Talk that dives deeper into this myth.
Thank you, Helen Mongan-Rallis, for sharing this video with me!
There is no such thing as normal.
It has never existed. Instead, it is a phenomenon created by society to make a mold for expectations. It is derogatory, insulting, demeaning, and unrealistic.
In a school setting, setting “normal” expectations for students can be extremely stressful and damaging to self-image, confidence, performance, and self-worth.
However, schools designed curriculum standards and classroom expectations around the norm or average to be the most “inclusive” while making it easy on themselves. Today’s curriculum standards answer the question raised by Todd Rose, “If you designed something for the average person, wouldn’t it fit most people?”
In reality, the “average person” doesn’t exist, so something designed for the average or norm would be designed for nobody.
Why is this a problem?
We design our curriculum for a one-dimensional, textbook student. In other words, we design it for someone who doesn’t exist.
Many schools strive to nurture individual potential, but their curriculum platform allows them to strive for the big picture instead. So, the average learning profile hurts everyone and solves nothing.
What are the Consequences?
1. A curriculum that is created to support the average student supports nobody
As you may know, a school’s curriculum is centered around a variety of areas (such as memory, language, curiosity, reading, and knowledge), each with their own expectations for average performance. However, no child or student has met or can meet every “average” expectation -- that’s just not how our brains are built.
Instead, we have what is called a “jagged learning profile,” meaning that a student has strengths, weaknesses, and is average for some areas. Here is an image of a sample jagged learning profile.
Here’s another example.
In school, I was always strong in English but not in math. And my scores proved this. Throughout my schooling, I scored higher on English sections of standardized tests than I did on math and science sections.
So, when I struggled with math, I often felt as though I was falling behind and pushed to meet a certain expectation, but when I excelled in reading, I sometimes felt as though I wasn’t learning or being challenged.
2. Talent becomes a liability
Students who are naturally gifted in one area often become bored when they are educated with an average curriculum. Moreover, their weaknesses are not supported, meaning they are not receiving a wholesome education and are not able to reach their full potential.
An example provided by Ross is a child who excels in science but struggles in reading is unable to perform to the best of their ability because textbooks expect children to read at a certain level.
3. The Dropout Crisis
When it comes to this crisis, the stereotype is that the only students who dropout of high school are those who struggled.
According to the Ted Talk, “The Myth of Average,” we’re losing 1.2 million high schoolers every year in the United States. Of that 1.2 million students, we’re losing 50,000 of society’s brightest minds.
That means that our current curriculum system supports neither the brightest students or the ones who naturally struggle. So, how do we fix it?
WHAT'S THE SOLUTION?
We need to look at education on an individual level and strive to nurture individual potential. Although this might sound difficult, the solution is already under our nose. . .technology.
Technology has provided teachers and students with ways to support every student with basic solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Apps and online tools can help English Language Learners (ELLs), kids with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, or simply kids who either excel or struggle in a certain subject.
Technology in the classroom is a topic that I will explore in later posts, but feel free to further educate yourself on the benefits of technology!
Whoever came up with the word “normal” didn’t understand what it meant to be human. Whoever decided to center schools around “normalcy” didn’t understand what was best for children.
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8/9/2020 11:39:47 am
Loved the TED Talk! The “jagged profile “ reminds me a lot of the Strengthfinder tool, which emphasizes maximizing strengths. I also want to note the difference between “average” and “normal”. Average is a statistical term, i.e. the statistical mean. Design of learning or tools targets an average of one standard deviation around the mean. There are people within that range on (key idea) what is measured. Too much educational assessment iss based on standardizing what is measured and how and then evaluating students, schools and teachers on that statistical output rather than individual student progress and needs. Also, “average” can blur into “normal”, converting a statistic into a judgement. A student who is not average becomes not normal, a student who is not average becomes a dummy or nerd to be scorned. When schools are “failed schools” when some % of students are below standards, curriculum and instruction narrows to teaching to a certain test result.
8/9/2020 11:44:27 am
Beautifully said, Paul. I couldn't have summarized it any other way. Schools that have a targeted achievement demoralize students with expectations. As said in the video, curriculum needs to be designed for the edges, not the average. Thank you for your comment!
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Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.