The Failure of Modern One Size Fits All Schooling



It was charged that “the curriculum of their schools… discouraged growth of knowledge by excluding any but traditional ideas; that it appealed too much to memory and to passive obedience; that the unchanged educational establishment had lost touch with the needs of the time for a greater utilization of science and a more realistic view of human life.” A recent study and report to a national educational review panel over the deficiencies of inner-city education? Or maybe a Charter Schools Administrator lashing out at local government officials over their unwillingness to accept novel teaching methods or a diversified curriculum? Well Not actually. The quote is from a book that has been published announcing a revolution in education. Can you find it on the NY Times bestsellers list, and currently being promoted by Oprah Winfrey or other national celebrities? Not very likely.

Actually, both the above charge and announcement are very factual. They happened in 1762 in France and are the work of philosopher JeanJacques Rousseau. How little has changed in 258 years. This includes the perceived problems of a failing education system, as well as the solutions instituted. Back then as a solution to these failures the French and then thereafter most of the Western World focused on strict government control of education, this with rigidly defined curriculums. In our current century, we have once again proven that this approach can have miserable failings, along with, at best, an abundance of mediocrity.

Why have these methods failed? What can be done to improve them? What basic changes to our approach could replace them? Have our methods and process taken priority over the intended results? Can effective student-centered education be developed? These are just a few of many questions confronting educators, legislators, and parents today.


One inherent flaw built into our current educational models involves the rigid structure of learning and the controlling piecemeal methods that information is spoon-fed to students. Typically the students have no interest in the subject matter at hand or in the way in which it is presented. Could making learning an enjoyable and pleasant experience affect the results?

These rigid curriculum-based educational models restrict creativity beyond belief and accordingly take away the fun, discovery, and excitement out of learning. They also ignore the recognized psychological fact that different people learn better in different ways. Some people are left-brained, some right. Some people learn better with visual tools, others audio or with written material, while others though doing.

The days of one size fits all schooling need to be put behind us. It has proven itself a dismal failure for too many. It has taught multitudes of people how to passively take in information but has failed to teach them what to do with it, or to nurture a lifelong desire to continue learning, something very beneficial later in life. What it often does do is prepare one very well for becoming a passive couch potato.


In regard to higher education, our current models make similar missteps. Vertically stacked knowledge gained through the pursuit of narrowly defined college degree plans does not impart the tools one needs to adapt and move in the ever-changing dynamic work environment we have today. Education that is gained during a four or even eight-year period will become less useful each year afterward. With the rapid speed of change we experience today, a degree can become useless in less than ten years without further diversified continuing education. Specialization as we have come to know it is also problematic in this age of downsizing. Multidimensional job requirements that utilize information technologies and innovation require new types of workers who can integrate several types of work into one job.


What is more in order for our age? Lifelong learning must become the norm, not the exception. Being a career student should be the number one way to ensure a successful life. A more broad-based learning system, where knowledge is laid out laterally and used relatively, would also help. Exposure to many experiences at an early age can lay the mental groundwork for this type of learning. At the very least we need an educational system where creative thinking is taught, and where students discover how to utilize information, as opposed to today’s school life of extensive memorization and the passive following of instructions in a command and control environment.

U.S. General George Patton is quoted as saying, “don’t tell people how to do something, tell them what you want them to do, and you will be amazed by their ingenuity.” Controlling work environments are on their way out because they do not allow for this empowering individualism and personal creativity, two of the most valuable resources we have at our disposal as humans.

Albert Einstein, the famous American theoretical physicist, said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world . . . stimulating progress or giving birth to evolution . . . .” Keeping these thoughts in mind, we can ask ourselves what might occur when imagination embraces near-perfect information (properly organized) or unlimited knowledge (practically available today via internet search engines). Could this be the key to embracing true educational reform today?


Information and computer technologies are tools that can now enable free-form, interest-based learning like never before possible. This can permit an individualized focus of learning for each student, based solely on his/her interests. Chaotic, you say? It was the philosopher Rousseau who first forwarded the idea of “present interest” in regards to learning. “Present interest–that is the great mover, the only one which leads surely and far.” The key is for the educator to be able to pull related curriculum into the student’s focus, this while he or she is happily enveloped in theirpresent interest”.

How much more of a lasting impression does this information make upon the student while he or she is still excited about the primary interest that brought all of it into focus? For example, first, try and explain to a toddler the function of a computer printer. You may get some points across, but not many. Then, another time, when you are helping the same child surf the Internet for a favorite topic of his or her’s (let’s say “pictures of fish”), and he/she is totally enthused about the picture or graphic on the computer screen, print it! Explain again the function of the printer to the child, while it is printing the focus of his/her enthusiasm. Which lesson do you think sinks in better? I know that was an oversimplified example, but you get the point.

Individualized learning based on a child’s natural inclinations would also enhance the child’s ability to develop according to his/her strengths, due to human tendencies to focus on things that suit one naturally. Education through self-discovery and life exploration is a feasible concept today with the information and tools at hand.


There have been some attempts at child based schooling previously, but with a strict curriculum as King, it has failed miserably. True and effective child-centered learning must at least in part, flow from each child’s own interests. It is only when one enthusiastically focuses on a matter, that they easily assimilate it, along with much additional peripheral data related to their current interest. This allows free and natural development of the unique self that each individual is. It invokes the child’s attention, enthusiasm, participation, and thought, and is real, useful, and purposeful for him or her.

Over 25 years ago, Peter Drucker, a popular but somewhat contrarian business Author, asked in his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, why somebody has not already taken accepted psychological principles related to learning and integrated them into a “more new educational system”. Today, we again ask ourselves the same thing. Individualized learning based upon present interest, and more diversified broad-based learning, are just two possible ingredients of this system. They require creativity from both educators and students and require a flexible system to work within. They are just two of many tools available to enhance learning as we know it and prepare our children as well as ourselves for whatever future lies before us.