The New Normal

The New Normal dan skognes motivation blogger speaker teacher trainer coach educator

Most educators would agree that normal refers to a standard that most kids fall in to. The problem we face is what is “normal?” What is normal for you is not necessarily normal for me, right? So how do we really know what IS normal?

Rather than debate how to define it, let’s agree that the answers are going to be quite varied for each of us depending on our culture, education, family, experiences, attitudes, and faith. So, if we agree that normal is different for everyone, why do we teach to a norm? Are we trying to fit square pegs into a round hole? Arguably, yes, at least at times.

Here is my challenge to all parents and educators regardless of where you live, what school or schools you have attended, how much money you make, or even what you currently believe. The new normal of teaching is this: When it comes to education and learning, normal has to be individualized or it becomes impotent. Too often we find ourselves teaching to the test and trying to push every child into the mold of what is presented. The problem comes when kids have a learning disability that has not been diagnosed, or worse…misdiagnosed.

The system is broke. STAAR test results have come back here in Texas with news that is disheartening to everyone:

  • There has been a drop in the percent of children in Reading, Science, and Social Studies. (I was surprised that Math was not on the list)

  • 4th Graders had dropped to 70% passing!

  • 8th Graders had dropped to 76% passing!

    *These stats were reported on the news this morning ironically as I was writing this blog.

If you are a parent or educator, the alarm bells should be going off in your head. This trend can’t continue and expect us to have any positive outcomes. We are settling for a watered down norm which we expect the majority of kids to pass. The problem comes in continually lowering the bar in order to achieve an arbitrary standard.

I do have not a magic wand to fix the problem. I am simply an educator, a grandfather, and concerned citizen that sees that the hole in the ship is getting bigger and bigger. We can’t continue to pass on struggling kids to the next grade just to get them out of our hair. Lowering the standards is not the answer either. We can’t concentrate on “the test” and forget to teach the basics. We can’t focus on grades and forget that mastery of the subject is necessary. If we have produced illiterate kids, what have we really accomplished?

I am just one voice, but I hope that people in places of power and decision-making wake up and smell the coffee. We have a problem that is not going away. Throwing new programs at it will not fix the underlying issues. We seem to try to put Band-aids over gaping wounds and expect to stop the bleeding. This is the new normal…and there is nothing normal about it.

Shalom!

Dan Skognes

13 Responses to “The New Normal”

  1. “Are we trying to fit square pegs into a round hole?” Yes!

    “When it comes to education and learning, normal has to be individualized or it becomes impotent.”

    May I please disagree? Let us look at it this way – if all of us can eat with fork and spoon but about 80 % to 90% of us can only eat with chop-sticks. Should we all eat with Fork and Spoon or with Chop Sticks? I would say eat with fork and spoon as all of us can eat with fork and spoon. However, in the education system they keep insisting on ‘using chop-sticks’ and that ends up with about 10 to 20% being illiterate.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      If all kids you mentioned ate with a fork and spoon, but culturally a child could eat better using chop sticks, why not let them use chop sticks? It is only my opinion here, but I don’t see the point of forcing someone to do something that in the end could become a barrier to their learning experience. I think we need to pay attention to how an individual learns and encourage them to learn in the way that they learn best.

      I have some students that literally learn best standing. Why should I force them to sit and become disruptive? I allow them to stand and even walk about (within reason) as long as they get their work done.

      • They can all eat just as well with fork and Spoons. It is not that some eat BETTER with chop sticks. (This is just an analogy). In a school setting I believe it will be difficult to cater to individual needs. Why not teach in a way all can learn provided that this way uses the same amount of time. Most importantly all teachers should learn not to teach alphabet sounds wrongly. This is the main culprit. When you teach it wrongly a majority (about 80%) can learn but not the rest. However, when you teach it correctly all are able to learn. Why not teach all the correct way?

  2. “The problem comes when kids have a learning disability that has not been diagnosed, or worse…misdiagnosed.”

    I may not want to call it a ‘Learning Disability’. I prefer to call it a learning preference. About 20% of the populations like to be taught explicitly. If everyone is taught in an explicit way then the percentage of illiterates will be drastically reduced.

    I believe that the term learning disability should be replaced with ‘Learning to read in the English Language’ problem. The students interviewed in ‘The Children of the Code’ all speak well in English but all of them could not read. I would not classify them as learning disabled.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      Perhaps it is just semantics. If you find it preferable to be more specific to English, then that is OK. I can’t speak personally to other languages as you do, so I will defer to your expertise in that area.

  3. “These stats were reported on the news this morning ironically as I was writing this blog.”

    This reported in a country that has put man on the moon? If scores of experts had been working on ‘Children of the Code’ with billions of US Dollars over more than 10 years and still cannot find a solution something is really wrong – just my opinion.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      Yes, they are dismal results for a great country. We put a man on the moon in 1969, by the way. There have been many other great achievements since then…but not so much in education. Is it really different where you live in the sense of education evolving? It just seems that education is behind the curve around the globe in really advancing with the times.

  4. “We can’t concentrate on “the test” and forget to teach the basics.”

    Exactly! Teach the basics the proper way and illiteracy rates will be reduced. This is not wishful thinking.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      It is what is needed, but I am not sure it is the priority with the ones who decide what will be taught. Education is very political and dollar driven. What is good for the child is not necessarily what is done as a result.

  5. Cristina Andreescu says:

    Do you really believe that these basics are well presented in our educational system? Now I speak for my country and the answer is NO. What we really need in not INFORMATION but EDUCATION. I think, mainly, reducing illiteracy comes from conscience. The question is: do we really improve the conscience of our children? Which are their values? Their models? Their motives?
    I am teaching Computer Science. Do you think information, as good as possible, is enough? I do not think so. I see every day smart children with a very low conscience level going outside the road. My efforts are not to inform and teach them basics of It but basics of EDUCATION. And this is what our national system do not encourage.
    What do we need to do to change this system? The answer is in our hands. We are the ex-children, the actual parents and teachers. It depends on us how our children will grow and be able to master the technology for a better future. Or not.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      Cristina, I appreciate your comments and hear the frustration in your words. The problem is complicated by politics, money, and fear of change. I think the answer is not in our hands, but in the hands of those who have power and influence. If a parent or teacher complains it is seen as whining. If the Director of the Department of Education says, “We have a problem.” Guess what? We have a problem. Let’s pray that those in the positions of influence wake up before it is too late to make a real change. Shalom! Dan

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