Should Everyone Learn at the Same Pace?

This question has clearly been answered by our society with a resounding “YES”. It is an accepted notion that all children should learn at the same pace, and stringent measures are taken to ensure that this is the case and that there be “no child left behind”. Whether it means that those who neglect to keep up the pace are segregated (at the cost of their self-esteem), or that those who attempt to move forward are boxed in by the agenda; in such a system, those who are not acclimated to a subject are forced to acclimate, those who refuse to cooperate are disciplined.

The pace that is set ensures an anemic growth pattern whereby the teacher controls the curriculum through the lesson plan. The curriculum, based on a curious compendium of all things necessary for the adult of the future to master, is doled out to each classroom according to a centralized schedule which is administered by year, month, week, and day. It would seem that education officials have the uncanny ability to predict the future – to know exactly what skills children will need to possess, what subjects they will need to master, and how and when they will need to know this material – an ability that justifies their empowerment and the authority vested in them to schedule the lives of practically every person under the age of majority throughout America.

And that’s that...after all, policy is policy. And look, it can’t hurt for kids to get the basics, right? Studies show educated people do better in life after all, don’t they? So all this authoritarianism is justified, isn’t it?

It’s an audacious notion we hold, to presume to design a school system that warrants this complete forfeiture of personal liberty. In human history, schools have surfaced to service a societal need such as the provision of warriors, scribes or factory workers. What function do our schools serve?

It may be a fine thing if my 12 year old son read Shakespeare (which he doesn’t), but should I fill his days with all the things I think he should learn? I impart knowledge to him, and I also go to him for things like tech advice because of his knowledge of things of which I am ignorant.  

How does usurping the time and will of young people help them learn to be independent, powerful adults? Do they not rather learn to be servants to authority? How can we presume to map it out for them when areas of human knowledge continually fractionalize at an accelerated rate beyond comprehension? Is it any wonder our young people are disenchanted with the program? Why can’t we let go of our fear that children won’t learn anything unless we cram it down their throats?

People learn and, if they are healthy, continue learning throughout their lives. We don’t need to force them to learn. We don’t need to spend a gazillion dollars to alleviate our guilt and fear over their uncertain futures. If we put them in a good environment and trust them…they will just do it!

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.