Last Sunday we drove to Hampton, New Hampshire to attend a Hillary Clinton rally. We stood outside the local high school cafeteria for an hour or so, then stood two more hours inside before she finally arrived. After a brief speech she spent the remainder of her time answering questions. The room was so packed that they had an overflow area in the gymnasium. At one point an aide handed her a note which began, “Fire department extremely upset…” Doh! Too many people, apparently.
Skye elbowed her way up to the railing and enthusiastically raised her hand until Hillary eventually called on her. Skye asked, “I’m eight and I skipped second grade. It’s still easy. So, how can you make it more challenging?” After some laughter and much applause, Hillary responded.
Did you all hear her? She skipped second grade and it’s still too easy. So, how does it get more challenging?Well, my daughter Chelsea who is here with me tonight skipped third grade. I remember this question. That is really touching. I’m been asked, I don’t know, a million questions, I’ve never had a young person ask me that question.
We need to help each child live up to his or her god-given potential. If you’re not being challenged enough we need to make it challenging for you. You should be going as fast and far as your hard work and your natural abilities will take you.
I think we need to have much more personalized education. We are living in an increasingly personalized customized world. You get to look forward to the not very distant future when your genome is going to be analyzed and your doctor’s going to be consulting it because you may need a different treatment than your cousin or your neighbor because you’re genetically different. We can go online and design all kinds of services that are particularly suited for you. Education is still an industrial model. You enter a classroom, you have a curriculum, and everybody kind of goes along at the same pace. I don’t think that will work for our kids in the future. I think we’ve got to reimagine education.
We’ve got to think about how we take a young woman like you, who’s eight years old and wants to be more challenged, and make sure you are. That means we’ve got to reconfigure our schools. We have to deploy our teachers differently. You can’t impose these kinds of changes, you have to be a partner with our educators and with our parents and with our families. Let’s start thinking about what twenty-first century education will look like to makes sure that you are challenged.
I think it’s a good question (I should, I helped her come up with it). As parents, Kirsten and I have long been frustrated with the school systems in which our daughters, Skye and Jenna, have been enrolled. The girls are bright and we work with them constantly. As a result, they are generally far ahead of their peers academically. Their teachers have had to work harder, as they would with a struggling child, to insure they are progressing. We have been fortunate to have had wonderful teachers who have made great efforts to keep the girls challenged.
Skye is a third grader in a third/fourth grade multi-age class here in Saco, Maine. She does math with the fourth graders. What will she do next year when she is a fourth grader but has already completed fourth grade math instruction? We still don’t know. Jenna is a first grader in a first/second grade multi-age class and doing assignments with the second graders. We’ll face a similar problem with her next year.
Obviously, I cringed when Hillary mentioned “god-given potential”. I do, however, like the rest of her response. Education should be customized to each student. Students should progress at their own speed. I can’t imagine any system being able to achieve this goal without more educators and more bureaucracy. Then agian, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Education is perhaps the most important investment this country (and any other) can make. I don’t think Hillary Clinton–or anybody else–could “reconfigure our schools” this way. I am glad, though, that she understands my frustrations and the deficiencies of our current education “industrial model”.