Roses, grasses, chicks, and children
December 28, 2006
In all of nature it is obvious that the developmental process is both structured and diverse. It is structured in the sense that all healthy chicks seem to develop along the same path, from embryo to full grown adult. Yet even in the same brood, chicks do not all hatch at the same time. Grasses grow and set seeds higher or lower, depending on rainfall. In the flower garden, roses, even from the same rose bush, do not set buds and flower all at the same time, much less across the garden, where there are flowers that bloom in April, May, June, July; where there are some that bloom in the early morning, while some do not open until the afternoon sun. Yet, a daisy unfolds as a daisy, a tulip as a tulip, reliably and predictably, provided there is not some hindrance: poor soil, lack of water, blight or pests. Each thing unfolds in its own time, in its own perfection, in accord with the life circumstances it encounters.
If this is true even for such things as grasses, flowers, and beasts, how can we imagine it is any different with something so exquisitely complex as a human being? Under favorable circumstances, children learn and adapt and grow in healthy ways at very different rates and with different interests and capabilities. Would we want it any other way? Neurophysiology is even now unlocking the vast potential of the human mind and spirit, dazzling us with the incredible range and scope of our human capacities. Yet we have programmed our entire educational system with the opposite expectation and with harsh penalties for non-conformity to an arbitrary set of mind-numbing standards.
This is the result of misguided approaches to observing, interpreting, and evaluating learning and development. The public is increasingly disenchanted with the unacceptable social and psychological consequences of high-stakes standardized testing. Rather than supporting the process of development and adaptation, these approaches stifle creativity in teachers and students, force conformity to a “norm” created by “experts,” and strip all of the richness and complexity and wonder out of the learning environment. In the future, this era will be viewed as the Dark Ages in child development and education. But even during this bleak time under the ubiquitous and oppressive regime of standardized testing, there is another way, a well-established and proven model for capturing evidence of the unique process of each child’s development, interpreting it according to well-grounded learning theories, adapting it for differing life circumstances. and providing public accountability. This model is the Learning Record. We have the capacity to begin a renaissance in human development and education right now. What will it take?