Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Unknown

The above quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but the incredibly extensive investigation documented at seems to indicate that he never said it. Two quick notes on that:

  1. If you're famous, people will give you all sorts of additional credit. :)
  2. That this animal allegory has been used since 1898 many times to describe deficiencies in how we think about education, means that it does a good job of reminding us that standardization is not the ultimate measure of others' talents.
When I talk about the "inherent worth and value of every child," this is language that resonates with those who consider themselves religious or spiritual; however, it's not the language of science. In a purely scientific worldview, we accept that talent and IQ are not spread evenly among the population, and we're comfortable with (or maybe not always comfortable with, but accepting of) the idea that some percentage of our students will fail or drop out because they just aren't that smart or that capable. Most of us see the boundaries between where science ends and morality begins pretty clearly when we get to practices like eugenics, but don't feel the same moral urgency when measuring intelligence or capability.

I think this is a mistake. As someone who believes in the importance of both science and spirituality, I'm troubled when I see hubris on either side. Science has brought us incredible advances, but what is often seen as settled science is shown later to have been a misreading of the evidence; as well there are no more profound feelings for me than those that come from believing in the divine, and yet religion is often used as an excuse for exploitative and even barbaric behavior. I cannot explain, scientifically, my belief in the inherent worth and value of every person, but I do know that when I act as if that is true, I not only feel better about who I am, but I believe those who are treated that way are more likely to experience their own growth and development.

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