In his book, The End of Average, Harvard professor Todd Rose tells the story of a problem the US Air Force had in the early 50’s. They were losing pilots due to accidents at an alarming rate. After researching many possibilities for the abnormal accident rate, they discovered one factor common to all planes: the design of the cockpit and the fit of the pilot’s chair. It seems that the pilot’s chair was designed to fit the body dimensions of the average pilot. Makes sense. The problem is, that after further research, it was determined that a very low number of their pilots matched the average body shape and profile. In fact, it was determined that exactly ZERO of their pilots matched this so-called average profile! As the story goes, once this was discovered, the Air Force immediately began the work of customizing the pilot’s chair for each and every pilot and the rate of crashes went down dramatically.
A powerful story for sure, but as Professor Rose says, not many of us have had the direct experience of being Air Force pilots and so won’t be able to relate specifically to this experience. However, if you watch the original Ted Talk https://youtu.be/4eBmyttcfU4 you will notice how Professor Rose ties this story to a more common experience that we all share. While indeed not many of us have been or will fly a fighter jet, we all have a had another common experience of sitting in a chair that is made to fit the average person. The classroom. What is telling if you watch the video is the laughter that comes from the audience when he shows a picture of a traditional classroom and makes this connection.
Why the laughter? Because we have all been there. Whether as students ourselves, teachers, parents, support staff, or school principals we have all had the common experience of educating young students and how our schools are directed toward the average student who may exist on paper but not in reality. Each student is a mix of strengths and weaknesses, different learning styles, and different interests and passions. All of these are faced by a teacher who is trying to faithfully meet the goals of the required curriculum and make sure that each students leaves with a solid foundation of skills and knowledge in preparation for success in life, or at least in the next grade. The challenge is clear: with each student bringing their unique profile to the classroom each day, and each teacher and support staff member trying to meet the requirements of the curriculum, how do we provide an Education that Fits for each and every learner?