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FILE— The purpose of education is to develop individual self-enlightenment, for each person to become a unique individual, possessing attributes and values that are self-developed, not stamped in their heads by a predetermined subject-centered standard.

“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Public education in our nation is in serious trouble. Jefferson’s “general diffusion of knowledge” has now become a general infusion of robots. Jefferson wished to provide education as the knowledge base for individual growth and self-expression. Today, however, schools are rapidly becoming factories that attempt to produce similarity rather than variety of human expression.

The purpose of education is to develop individual self-enlightenment, for each person to become a unique individual, possessing attributes and values that are self-developed, not stamped in their heads by a predetermined subject-centered standard. It is time, therefore, that we begin to change our education system from one centered on subject matter to one that is student-centered.

Student-centered education differs from one that is centered on content (or subject). SCE consists of experiences that nurture each child’s unique strengths, talents, interests and character. Education, as Jefferson intended it, is to assist each child, in his own way, to become a valuable contributing member of the general society. Subject content, in SCE, is used to help students discover and develop human powers: inquiry, creativity, love of learning, curiosity, communication, initiative and leadership. The aim is to release the genius within each child, rather than having students memorizing facts to be assessed by standardized tests. SCE empowers teachers to structure curriculum and learning activities in ways that support the unique needs of each child.

The basic principles of student-centered education are these:

  1. Each human being is unique, possessing individual abilities and values.
  2. The purpose of education is to assist each child to discover and develop whatever genius is within him or her.
  3. Teachers are empowered to utilize subject-matter content and learning activities to support individual self-development.
  4. Assessment is through the use of portfolios that contain and display the individual’s progress made in self-discovery and development.
  5. Parents and teachers work as partners. They collaborate in helping each child develop unique attributes, talents and values.
  6. Education is the vehicle by which people make the maximum contribution to society.
The time is now. The responsibility is ours. If we do not do it, it may not be done. Our imperative is to promote student-centered education much like Jefferson promoted the “common school.” In the face of fierce opposition, the common school bill was passed by the Virginia Legislature. We also must accept the challenge to convince the state of Utah of the urgent necessity to implement SCE. We may not be celebrated in song or poetry, but we will have the thanks of countless students who will benefit from our work.

M. Donald Thomas is a retired superintendent of schools and a national education consultant. mariothomas1@yahoo.com.

Lynn Stoddard has 50 years of experience as a teacher, principal and education leader. lstrd@yahoo.com.