Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

The Dangers Of Average

We love averages because they can show us whether we’re doing a good or a bad job.

Above six feet tall? Score! Can you read 300 words per minute? Whoopee! Do you have eight or more limbs? Then your dad probably dated a squid. 

Averages can be immensely useful if we’re comparing large groups of one dimension. Like the average height of a population. But once we start measuring more complex things, averages are about as useful as feet on a snake.

As Lawrence Dworsky said in his book about statistics, “The average of an elephant and a mouse is a cow, but you won’t learn much about elephants or mice by studying cows.”

Common sense, right?

It’s why we have snapback hats, joggers with drawstrings, and adjustable seats in our cars. One size doesn’t fit all. 

Yet that’s precisely how our educational system treats kids. All students must follow the same curriculum.

Which is crazy. We’d never imagine creating one standardized bicycle that everyone has to learn to ride regardless of body shape.

Yet that’s exactly what we did when we designed our schools. We made a standardized system based on averages that doesn’t properly fit anyone.

To be fair, a curriculum is far more difficult to make than a bike. Adapting it to each individual student is unreasonable if not flat out impossible.

Equally unreasonable, however, is the homogenized school situation we have now. 

So what should we do?

We meet in the middle and create a school system that’s adjustable. 

How?

  • Set up a way for students to give feedback so you know what they do and don’t like. 
  • Give students the power to impact the curriculum in small but significant ways, such as choosing the subject for their English essay, or creating one of the questions for their history exam. 
  • Reward curiosity by setting up the class material in a way that answers the student’s questions.
  • Involve students in setting up the rules of the classroom.
  • Introduce moments of peer review and self assessment. 

These are just some ways to give students control over their learning without breaking the system. 

Going to school should feel rewarding, not like something that you have to endure against your will.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach