Focusing on the Exceptions

The second point that I was remind of as I was reading The Uses of Diversity (Chesterton, 1932), is the trend within modernity of using the exceptions to define the norm. I see it a lot in education, and it’s rather disconcerting, especially at first. There’s a whole spectrum of academic potential represented within our student population. This ability is determined by the interaction of intelligence, upbringing, talent, and motivation, and ranges from those with brilliance and drive who will manage to learn no matter what we do, through the kids who are smart but lazy, or hard working but “learning disabled,” and goes on toward the pole of those with severe mental disorders. Like in a bell curve, the vast majority are somewhere in the middle, and it was for them that the system of education was designed. It is an extremely inefficient system even for them, but becomes utterly impossible when all our time and energy is focused on what to do with the exceptions who don’t even pretend to fit in.


In an effort to make the mess of education slightly less heinous for the exceptions, we therefore spend a lot of time talking about SEI, Universal Design, Differentiated Instruction, gifted programs, and other such things. What am I going to do when I end up with a blind child with no hands in my painting class? I end up asking. What if I get a young genius who already knows everything I have to teach? How extraordinarily silly! In this respect I am more silly than most, because I have a habit of taking people seriously, and trying to take what they say to their logical conclusions, both of which are fatal in Education. So I really do try to create a kind of universal design in my lessons that is universal, including those utterly unlike both myself and every other human I have ever known, who probably exist only in studies, and end up with a hideous abstraction of a lesson plan that is only universal in the sense that there is no being in Creation that would actually want or need to do it.


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