Ask any parent, teacher, student, they’ll all confirm one simple truth: all children are different. Despite that simple, undisputed truth we treat children as if they were all the same. That’s our baseline assumption, upon which all subsequent decisions are made and on which all systems are built. We feed children in at one end of the school machine, in tidy same-age blocks, pass them through the same processes at the same pace, test their progress in the same ways, and spit them out at the other end on the same date, prepared for the university machine that will prepare them to spend their lives doing the same job in the same place for the rest of their lives. The fact that this has nothing to do with their own realities never seems to bother us.
Time to change that. Time to reconceptualise schools based on a new baseline assumption, reflecting what we all actually know: every child is different. Every single one of them. What if we acted on what we know, that all children think differently, evolve differently, value different things, have different strengths, different needs?
Try this. Imagine another dimension, in which the adults acted on the understanding that every child is different and created learning systems built on that baseline assumption. What might ‘school’ look like in that dimension? How might it be structured? What would be the roles of the learning stakeholders: the students, the parents, the teachers, the leaders, the governors? Would that separation of roles even exist?
No need to imagine that dimension.A pretty good simulation already exists. Recently the Design Team of the Next Frontier Inclusion had the enormous privilege of accompanying 80 of our members on an intensive 3-day visit to the Reggio Emilia school district in Northern Italy. Together we observed, discussed, listened, learned. Here’s what we heard:
‘Our fundamental understanding is that every child is different. Every child is a story of possibility. We attend closely to what they are telling us. They give us clues as to their possible futures. We follow the clues they give us. With a story it can always be continued’.
‘When we come together with our parents, every parent is the parent of every child in the group, not just the parent of their own child’.
‘Everyone is part of the learning/teaching team: the students, the teachers, the chefs, the cleaners, the psychologists, the atelieristas (art coaches)’
These are paraphrases, but I hope they do justice to the beauty and simplicity of what we heard. Critically, they also describe what we saw in practice. At Reggio, they live their beliefs. They do so with passion and commitment...and they have earned a global reputation for inspiring learning.
So, it can be done. We can build learning systems based on the truth about children: that they are all different. Isn’t it time we stopped building systems based on a falsehood?
CGC Design Team/NFI Design Team