Education should be about making snowflakes not ice cubes

From the Salt lake Tribune, by Lynn Stoddard and Jim Strickland

Are American students treated like ice cubes or
snowflakes? In discussing the kinds of crystals created from the simple process
of water freezing, James Gleick in his book, “Chaos: Making a New
Science,” compares the formation of ice cubes with that of snowflakes:
“When solidification proceeds from outside to inside, as in an ice tray,
the boundary generally remains stable and smooth… But when a crystal
solidifies outward from an initial seed — as a snowflake does, grabbing water
molecules while it falls through the moisture-laden air — the process becomes
unstable … new branches form, and then sub branches … The final flake
records the history of all the changing weather conditions it has experienced,
and the combinations may as well be infinite.”
The process of freezing from the “outside
in” compared to crystallizing from the “inside out” produces
dramatically different results.
A snowflake is a good example of individuality
and intricate beauty that naturally develops in an atmosphere of freedom. You
cannot “mold” a snowflake, but only create the conditions where it
can grow. “You can teach only by creating an urge to know.” (Victor
Weisskopf )
What we often find happening in schools is that
educators love to talk the talk of snowflakes — every child a unique and
precious individual, while continuing to walk the walk of ice cubes — every
child molded to fit a uniform pattern. The emergent nature of a more
student-centered approach to education requires that we relinquish our
obsession with controlling the end results and support the unique pattern of
each individual child to develop. This demands trust in growth, respect for the
child, and faith in the process.
Do we have the moral and political will to
develop atmospheres that truly nurture positive human differences?
All over America there are outstanding teachers
who swim against the current of an imposed curriculum in order to help students
develop like snowflakes. David was a student who had a lifelong dream of
becoming a firefighter. Since none of his required courses seemed to fit into
what he needed, he became disenchanted with school and began missing classes.
A caring and perceptive teacher saw what was
happening and arranged with the local fire chief and school administration for
David to spend time learning from the firefighters at the nearby station. To
make a long story short, David got the education he needed without graduating
from high school and went on to become a highly qualified firefighter and fire
safety specialist.
The sad part of this story is that the teacher
who saved David and some others from falling through the cracks lost favor with
rigid policymakers and curriculum specialists. He found the pressure to produce
“ice cubes” too great, and so decided to resign and do other things.
It was a tragic loss to the profession. How many students have suffered over
the years because of the loss of creative teachers like this? How many adults
have talents lying dormant inside of them because they attended a school system
that was obsessed with having uniform graduation requirements?
We have a decision to make in American
education. Are we going to continue trying to force young people into a
standardized, uniform mold, or are we going to create the conditions for
individual greatness to flourish? In other words, do we want ice cubes or
snowflakes? Our answer makes all the difference.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired, long-time educator,
argues for making curriculum fit a great variety of students. Jim Strickland is
a teacher and advocate of Student Centered Education in Marysville, Wash.

One Reply to “Education should be about making snowflakes not ice cubes”

  1. Thank you for publishing the picture that I attached to my message in all the opt out groups here in Florida. I live in Tampa and was quite shocked to see that ad that I cut out and attached to my messages that I published in all the groups yesterday. Thanks for spreading the word.

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