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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Uniform Approaches Nose Out Individuality

Many years ago my friend went to Hollywood to have plastic surgery done on her nose. She felt her nose was too big and she wanted movie star Kim Novak’s nose. That is what she got because, at the time, this was the ideal nose and every woman who had plastic surgery got the same nose. While my friend’s new nose was smaller, it did not improve her looks which had been striking. It just made her look like every other woman who had Kim Novak’s nose.

Outstanding plastic surgeons no longer do this. The object of the surgery now is to improve the unique looks of the individual person and not to make that person look like somebody else. When the surgeon is successful, people do not notice that the person’s features are different, they just notice that the person looks rested and wonderful.

Plastic surgeons learned something very important. They did not have to make duplicates of some perceived ideal face, which would be boring, they could work with the face each person brought to them and improve it without changing its uniqueness. Schools could learn a lesson from this.

Each child who enters the school system is unique. Children are more unique and creative as kindergartners, however, than they are as seniors in high school. As kindergartners, each one has a unique way of looking at problems, at solving them, at asking interesting questions, at viewing events and the world around them. They have taught themselves a great deal in five short years and arrive at school as accomplished learners, interested and curious. Most school systems, however, instead of building on this uniqueness and treating children as individuals, proceed to fit them into a uniform mold.

Schools have decided what and how a child will learn before they ever see him. Schools have a pre-determined curriculum, time-table, and evaluation schedule

Each child gets the scholarly equivalent of Kim Novak’s nose, the standard model for education. As in the case of the surgeon, who eliminated my friend’s beautiful nose, the school eliminates a unique creative way of thinking in order to provide the standard model. One cannot help wonder if inept plastic surgeons, like poor school systems, give their clients Kim Novak’s nose because that is the only nose they know how to make. Or is it because they do not know another beautiful nose when they see it. Or could it be, that they really do not want different models but clones because they are easier to handle and to categorize.

School systems, by the early introduction of workbooks, worksheets, and other fill-in-the-blanks type of learning, quickly eliminate individuality and creativity in children. Instead of rewarding imaginative questions, the school wants only the right answers. There is only one answer that goes in those blanks. Young children quickly learn the drill and stop asking questions which are not in the curriculum. One researcher noted that tests of creativity were not valid after the third grade because children no longer thought or solved problems differently. They had become clones of the standard model. Of course, this may be what schools want to produce because they and their programs are going to be evaluated by clone-type tests.

I am not sure what made the plastic surgeons realize that they should change and not give everybody the same face. Did they just become wise by themselves or did their clients become smarter and demand something different and that forced them to change? Maybe we could do the same for our children. President Bush’s break-the-mold New American Schools initiative may be one way. Another way may be for informed parents to demand what is best for their unique children.

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