Silberman reading and Current Education in America
Of all of the material that we’ve covered and studied by Silberman this semester I must confess that the portion that has most captivated me was the material for this week. More specifically the studies conducted by Hans Asperger and others at Erwin Lazar’s Heilpadagogik Station. What struck me in particular was the unprecedented ways in which they studied the neurodivergent and the specific care that they took when caring for their patients. They recognized that each of their individual patients had their own idiosyncrasies, limitations, strengths, and needs. This view allowed them to constructively work with patients to glean a better understanding of the neurodiverse and how to give them the best lives possible. During the time this was a revolution and in many ways today it would be a revolution by today’s standards as well.
This understanding and flexible element to Asperger’s research is one that I fear that we have lost when it comes to education in America. So focused are we on fixing the things that we see as “broken” within the neurodiverse that we often lose sight of the end goal: having all students reach their potential. I feel that while this ought to be the fundamental goal of education that this goal has been supplanted in recency. In its place, we’ve aboved the conviction that all students ought to reach established educational standards, no matter their condition. In other words: all students ought to achieve the potential of the average neurotypical student.
For many students, both neurotypical and neurodivergent, this invocation to meet standards is an unrealistic and suffocating goal. As Lishing Wang states in her analysis of the American educational system, “One-size-fits-all standards either dumb down instruction to the lowest common denominator or condemn low-ability students to frequent failure.” This isn’t the recipe for a healthy and diverse society in which a multitude of views and ideas are valued but instead one that is rigid and inbred with the knowledge and views that it instills. Obviously, it would be casuist of me to assert that there is no value to standardized goals and attainments in education but I think that its overemphasis is potentially just as harmful as its absence. Our educational system, I’m afraid is leaning towards the former; and it is suffering for it.
To create a society where all citizens are able to reach their full potential we must take lessons from our predecessors in Lazar and Asperger and teach each child according to their ability. In doing this we will not only benefit from a diverse pool of viewpoints and abilities but we will also not disadvantage the neurodivergent away from success within our country.
“Controversies of Standardized Assessment in School Accountability Reform: A Critical Synthesis of Multidisciplinary Research Evidence,” Lishing Wang, Gulbahar Beckett and Lionel Brown, Applied Measurement in Education Volume 19 Number 4 2006 pps. 305-328.