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Schools need to understand and value “quirk theory”

Can you guess what the following members of this disparate group have in common?

In high school, all were ostracized outcasts because their peers thought they were weird. Their “flaw” was that they didn’t conform to the norms.

Alexandra Robbins writes about them in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth. In what she labels “quirk theory,” what cost them acceptance, connections and contentment in high school – their courage to be themselves – is precisely why they all became impactful, change-and-improve-the-world adults. Success in the adult (real) world demands that people find a way to be dissimilar in a positive, contributing way. Kids use the word weird as an insult. Adults use the word innovative as a compliment. Remove the negative and positive connotation and weird and innovative become synonyms.

You’d think that those who administer our schools and produce educational policy would get that, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong, though. The education bureaucrats may say they are in favor of change, creativity and original thinking, but what do they do? They adopt and implement standardized tests which engender standardized teaching, and predictably, standardized students.

For example, I teach at a school that prides itself on how many Advanced Placement (AP) courses our students take and how many AP tests they pass. Yet, isn’t advanced placement a fancy name for replication? Teach every AP student across the United States an identical curriculum so she or he can pass an identical test.

And if AP teachers want to be evaluated positively, they better spend their year teaching that prescribed curriculum produced by someone else to prepare their students for a test written by someone else.

To prepare our kids for a world that thrives on innovation or, as Apple put it, a place where people who “think different” are revered icons, we’re teaching everybody the same stuff.

Which might not be that bad if our world, as it is, was in great shape.

Is it? You tell me.

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