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When basic skills are taught for the purpose of developing the qualities of human greatness, rather than taught as ends in and of themselves, they are learned better and more deeply.

In two previous articles we have discussed (1) reasons business practices are not appropriate for teaching and learning and (2) the professional responsibilities that should be expressed by teachers. In this article we explain why students should be treated as unique individuals.

Understanding and accepting that every person born on this planet is unique changes both teaching strategies and accountability for results. The teacher understands that the aim of education is to develop the special set of strengths, talents and gifts inherent in each child. It is the teacher's obligation to nurture and assist each child to develop these gifts for the benefit of mankind. Further, the teacher knows, based on a large body of evidence, that children have the innate ability to decide what they need to learn and what they want to become. They basically build themselves like snowflakes do, from the inside out, each different from one another. The growth of differences is to be assessed, not the sameness against a predetermined subject-matter standard.

Understanding these basic principles makes it possible for teachers to concentrate on helping students see the great potential that is within them, to be awakened and exhibited. Extraordinary teachers have the "magic touch" or "love" that can inspire children to sense their inner potentials and develop them. This is well stated by Ira Progoff: "Love depends on the capacity to reach beneath the surface of persons, to feel and touch the seed of life that is hidden there. Love becomes a power when it is capable of evolving that seed and drawing it forth from that hidden place." Teachers can have no greater achievement than to “draw forth” children's amazing uniqueness.

When basic skills — reading, writing and arithmetic — are taught for the purpose of developing the qualities of human greatness, rather than taught as ends in and of themselves, they are learned better and more deeply. Some great teachers we know have shown that the best way to teach reading is to magnify a child’s innate curiosity. Having curiosity as a major goal of education allows for each child to learn basic skills at the right time for each one, not according to a traditionally fixed timetable.

The words of John Locke are appropriate here: “This much for learning to read, which let him never be driven to. Cheat him into it if you can, but make it not a business for him. 'Tis better it be a year later before he can read, than that he should this way develop an aversion to learning.” Unfortunately, joy has been removed from many schools by making reading, writing and math a dreary, high-pressure business for students as early as kindergarten and giving them an “aversion to learning.”

A revolution will occur in public education when teachers decide to be guided by the questions and needs of individual students. Subject-matter standards will fall neatly into the right place for each student when curiosity, creativity, initiative, cooperation and the development of unique talents are emphasized.

Many thousands of people in our country have not developed their innate talents because they attended schools that focused on a limited, required curriculum. America’s talent deficit will shrink when talent development becomes a high priority. Many more extraordinary inventors, artists, authors, musicians, scientists, physicians, farmers, electricians, plumbers and other highly skilled people will emerge when each child’s special genius is activated. Then, student-oriented education will replace subject-driven education and joy will replace apathy and boredom.

M. Donald Thomas is a former Salt Lake City superintendent of schools and now a national education consultant,

Lynn Stoddard has many years of experience as a teacher, principal, author and conference speaker,