Who gets the most bored and disengaged at school? The very bright and the very concrete.
School can be ok for those in the middle. But if you are intellectually a race horse, then school can become very boring. Boys like my son ended up having fights with the teachers - because he would question them and worse might know more than they did. He was quickly labelled a trouble maker.
Others, who have a very concrete mindset, just can't tune in to all this abstract stuff. It is just not how they experience the world. The teacher is just a source of noise. They get labelled as stupid.
The irony of our one size fits all situation is that it discounts two very talented groups of students - the truly academic and the truly pragmatic and concrete.
So what can be done? What can be done to make learning rich for these two extreme wings of the Bell Curve? The good news is that we have working experiments that we can draw on.
This is UTS University of Toronto Schools. It is a school in Toronto designed to meet the needs of a very misunderstood and badly served group of kids. The really really bright kids! I had the honour of working there back in the mid 1990's as the Principal was looking at the needs of this group of kids. I interviewed hundreds of them and spent months there. This is what I learned.
Really bright kids are under terrible social pressure at a "normal" school. They are among the least respected of all groups. Many have few peers to relate too. Many hide their gifts. Many are numbed by the pace and the low threshold of the work. Many are isolated and depressed.
UTS is designed as a haven for such kids. It only takes the very gifted. While it is fee paying, money is never a barrier. They find a way to take any child who has this gift.
What is UTS like for these kids? It is a haven. Everyone is like you. This is the only school I know where the kids break into the school on weekends! We all knew that they did this and we all knew the "open window" that they used - it was an open secret. It was a hot house for all types of learning. At the concert where many bands, groups and orchestras played, a girl would play Chopin as they moved the chairs around as a filler - she would have been the star in any other school. I have never experienced such positive energy in a school.
So what can we do here on PEI? What about setting up such a school at UPEI?
What then about the concrete thinkers?
Holland College has run a very successful experiment with this group. At its centre is a "carpentry" class. But it is also a maths class. All the key lessons about maths can be found in carpentry. Like the UTS experience, there is a social aspect to such an approach as well. These are kids who are easily labelled Stupid. They also tend to hide. They also get depressed. They also don't fit. they also can act out. But here they are among their peers.
There is a body of evidence behind this experiment. So the next step may well be to accept that such an approach can be expanded to include more kids and to include more areas of expertise. Mechanics? Really any of the practical fields has the power to explain all to concrete learners.
What about the resources?
If we had 2 programs - one for the academic and one for the concrete - they leverage existing platforms. For the Academic group, they expand the use of UPEI's physical plant and they expand the use of UPEI's existing teaching staff and the Department of Ed - OISE has very close links to UTS and is just down the road from the school. For the Concrete Group, the do the same for Holland College.
What about the results?
By differentiating like this, we boost these two vital groups. We also free up the centre of the Bell Curve back in the school. For both the extreme wings of the curve create friction for those that find the existing system just fine. All win.
Is there any case for not doing this?