Schools Cannot Do It Alone: Chapter 8

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A book study: Please participate in the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Part 9 in a series of chapter summaries–book club style–by New Richmond teacher, Scott Herron, who says:

Maybe you’ve heard the now famous “blueberries story” about education. That story comes from this book. So, I have an idea. As I’m reading this, I don’t want to be the only one hearing its message which we ALL should be hearing in this current educational and political climate.

So, here’s what I’m going to do: As I read each chapter I’m going to summarize its main points and important quotes/ideas. I think once you start reading you’re going to want to hear the rest. As we go through the book, I hope it sparks discussion and, at the very least, makes you feel more understood and appreciated like it has for me. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the message of this book needs to be our central mission as we go forward at the local, state, and federal level as we take the lead in the direction of education and its reform.


You can read the rest of Scott’s proposal here.


Changing the Core Beliefs

In the last forty years, a revolution has occurred, and we have discovered more about the mechanics of the brain and the nature of human intelligence than we learned in all of recorded history. Their findings have profound, practical implications.

Their most stunning discovery is that intelligence grows. Contrary to the conventional wisdom expressed in Belief #1, intelligence is not fixed. The brain is changing and organic. With the right environmental stimuli, the brain’s neural connections can grow both in number and complexity, and the lines of communication that carry information can become more efficient.

This phenomonon is known as “neural plasticity,” and its discovery has been heralded as a great leap in human history. More to the point, schools can actively accelerate the growth process by providing learning environments and programs that stimulate the development of neural connections.

Within the same cognitive revolution, there was a different group of scientists who were challenging Belief #2: they were questioning the nature, even the existence, of the bell curve.

The principal line of attack came from the theory of multiple intelligences (MI). MI theory holds that there is not just one monolithic intelligence that can be measured by standardized verbal instruments, ranked in order of magnitude, and plotted across a single curve. Rather, there are eight separate and distinct types of intelligence distributed across eight separate curves. The eight identified are:

Linguistic Intelligence
Logical/Mathematical Intelligence
Musical Intelligence
Spatial Intelligence
Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence
Interpersonal Intelligence
Intrapersonal Intelligence
Naturalistic Intelligence

Each profile contains creativity and energy that can propel an individual to solve problems and/or create products that are valued by society. Each profile, properly developed, can be a wellspring. of insight and innovation. Each profile has something we need.

I initially approached this research with enormous skepticism.

What finally turned me around was a comment by a friend — a poet of all people — who said, “You’re thinking about it the wrong way. You don’t have to abandon the sacred bell. Just think of it as a real bell.”

Human intelligence is distributed across a curve, but the curve is not a two-dimensional line.

The 3-D bell also shows that the traditional way of thinking about the curve as expressed in Belief #2, while not wrong, is much too narrow. And this insight immediately focused my attention on Belief #3.

Recall that adherrents of Belief #3 maintain that the bell curve of human intelligence and the bell curve of student achievement are the same curve. If, however, there are multiple curves of intelligence, then a momentous question arises: exactly which slice of the bell does the GPA chart represent? Which geniuses have we been identifying and rewarding? Who have we been labeling and descarding as rubbish?

And it turns out that anyone who has been to school — any school — knows what the answer is.

It is the curve that tells us how young people adapt to sitting in rows for long hours under close supervision. It is the curve that shows us how students cope with a daily schedule shattered by constant interruption; a schedule that forces them to move at the sound of a bell from workstation to workstation, boss to boss. It is the curve that tells us how to create meaning out of a steady stream of unrelated, seemingly irrelevant facts that may or may not help them make sense of their world. It is the curve that shows how kids handle conventional teaching methods favoring visual and auditory learners with long attention spans. It is the curve that reveals how students respond to assessment instruments that favor those children who can memorize heaps of discrete facts, and recall them on demand during an assortment of timed tests.

Stated in its simplest form, it’s the curve that shows us just one thing: how well our kids do in school.

The cognitive revolution was still in its infancy. There was, however, enough empirical evidence from enough reputable sources to convince me that a new understanding of the nature of intelligence was at hand that eviscerated any defense of the status quo.

On a personal note, the new theories helped explain my experiences as a father of three bright children who had very different experiences in school.

What was not explained by my invesigation was why we as a nation of smart, practical people have put up with the selecting system for so long. Why, for example, have we accepted the bizarre, distinctly American notion that it’s totally okay for millions of us to have forgotten most of what we learned in school? Why have we accepted a one-size-fits-all system that overlooks the obvious differences in student backgrounds, levels of readiness and learning styles?

I would find the answers to these questions in the weeks and months to come. They would show me why Americans were not ready to accept the wholesale restructuring of their schools, and they would prompt the writing of this book.

I took some comfort in knowing that there had never been anything wrong with my original objective: my oft-repeated calls to change our schools had been appropriate and timely. It was my arguments that had been wrong — ill-informed and simplistic. And, of course, my belligerent tone had been flat-out destructive.

My new argument was built on a central rationale: when it comes to educating America’s children, we are experiencing a unique and auspicious convergence of what’s right and what’s necessary. I structured the case in five parts:

Part One offered a short history lesson designed to show how the nation’s early one-room schools grew to become the complex, multifaceted, overburdened institutions that exist today.
Part Two described the changing needs of the American economy, the demise of the two-tiered world of work, and our need to position all children for some sort of post-secondary education.
Part Three explained the need for change for reasons that had nothing to do with the workplace.
Part Four provided a very basic introduction to the cognitive revolution.
Part Five was a summation and a call to arms.

At no point did I state what a restructured system should look like. This disappointed some people who wanted “the answer,” but it was my experience that promoting specific reforms was how outsiders — even informed outsiders — got themselves in trouble. But I didn’t kid myself. I knew that I had neither the credentials nor the experience to offer detailed prescriptions.

After months of private reflection, I was ready to put my message to the test. The trick would be to get someone to listen.


  1. Michele Hewitt says:

    These multiple intelligences have largely been ignored in classrooms and are a great way to tap into how students learn!

  2. Michele Hewitt says:

    I thought it was interesting that one of the skills needed is the ability to concentrate. In our fast-paced, drive-through society, that is hard to teach our students to do. Our students are always moving and going, and that skill is a difficult one to cultivate.

  3. Gail Crossley says:

    I thought it was interesting that the author emphasized the need for the development of functional literacy skills needed by students to function at high levels in their personal lives. We often assume basic life skills are being taught by parents, especially in higher socioeconomic families.