I had a friend once who was a perfect size 10 on top. Further down the line, she was a perfect size 14.
In a word (or three) she didn't fit. Standard sizes drove her crazy. She had to make choices between being baggy on top and comfy down below, or snuggy below and trim on top.Some children are like that. For one reason or another, they don't slide smoothly into the niches provided for them in the school system.
A father called the other day to bend my ear about one of these students -- his son -- who doesn't fit the mold.
The perplexed father was en route to school to visit teachers who were threatening dire things if the boy didn't get in his daily assignments.
The father's distress came in knowing that his son might not be turning in daily assignments, but passed the tests with flying colors.
What's a reporter to do?
I found myself as nonplussed as the dad.
I'm a great believer in school children doing their work. What's good for one should be good for all under that approach.
On the other hand, if this is a youngster who somehow absorbs enough to pass tests an indication that he is getting the information by one process or another what difference does it make?
I certainly had no words of wisdom or comfort for the father, but long after he'd hung up, I mulled the broader questions, and came to a conclusion: The school system doesn't work for some children, and it doesn't have the flexibility to adapt to individual needs.
Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, considered one of the finest minds in the country on the topic of educational reform, was in Utah recently, and he said much the same thing.
In his opinion, schools should be filling children the same as we fill containers to the brim, whatever the capacity may be.
A gallon's worth of education for the gallon container and a half-pint for the half-pint container should be the goal, he said.
Until that happens,education will fail to fulfill its ideal role in society.
That makes sense. So, why isn't it happening?
For the same reason my friend doesn't find clothing manufacturers running to create dresses that are size 10 on the top and size 14 on the bottom. The demand isn't great enough to make it profitable, and the costs would be greater than the returns.
In Utah, money is a considerable factor. I believe many educators are trying to find those square pegs who don't fit into their round holes and meet their needs.
But anything that falls outside the usual (including the usual "unusual" groups that are well defined and easily identified) is costly.
In the ideal world of the future which somehow always seems to remain somewhere in the future, no matter how much history accumulates children will start school with an individual program and continue at their own pace until they are "filled to the brim."
That will be the day when we find, somehow, the means and the expertise to allow us the luxury of dealing with the child in the singular instead of with school children in the plural.
In the meantime, children will be fed into the educational system at one end and come out nicely uniform little sausages at the other. Except for those who escape quality control and are snipped off the production line and discarded.
Sausages we can afford to waste. A single child is too much to discard.