Reach for Greatness: Personalizable Education for All Children by Yong Zhao

3. A Musician Must Make Music: The Need to Be Great

  • The chapter starts with the story of a boy who changed from a failure in school to a confident young entrepreneur. It then goes on to present a description of human needs based on modern established phycology based on the works of Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy of five levels includes physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. This final need is one that grows as it is being met and Yong sees it as the need to be great. Self-actualization is the realization of one’s unique potentials. It’s about becoming the best one can be. The idea is that everyone has potential, even though that potential may be overlooked, under-valued, or even judged as abnormal by society.

4. Take Control: Personalizable Education for Greatness

  • Yong sees personalized learning as a method that focuses on student deficits aimed at the premise the all students learn the same things. Personalized education recognizes that children are born learners who should control their learning as much as possible. This gives them the agency to be co-owners of the institution in all respects. It needs to be flexible to accommodate changes and individual needs. There should be a culture of value creation that can help others and the institution.
  • Students should be part of any planning process. Letting students learn different things is in line with the fact that modern culture values all human talents and traits. Trusting students is key and intrinsic motivation is more likely to happen. Rather than project-based learning where every student does some variation of the same thing, Yong promotes product-oriented learning where every student identifies a problem and develops a product to address it. Products can be art or music pieces, commodities like soap or soup, or a course taught by a student. As they work on their products, students will have to iterate just like real-world product makers. Some will need funding, which will require additional flexibility.

5. Trust Me: Realizing Personalizable Education

  • There are many outside forces who pose as educational experts like governments, higher education, testing companies, and others that perpetuate the traditional education paradigm. This leaves very little freedom for teachers to explore or experiment. It’s time for governments to govern less and focus on ensuring equitable opportunities and funding. They should stop the testing and incentivize educators to experiment. At the same time, businesses who profit from what schools do should eye the future lest they become the next horseshoe maker. Stop making harmful products and create products to support the transformation outlined here.
  • The public needs to become better informed and exert pressure on the policymakers. (Doug: Higher education can help by requiring that students present projects and products as part of the admission process.) Educators need to focus on relationship building, identifying student strengths and passions, and being more resourceful as they help students learn how to develop and manage their own learning.
  • We need to transform education from transmitting prescribed knowledge to cultivating students’ passions and supporting their strengths. Yong uses the analogy of the garden to describe traditional teaching where only specific plants are nurtured. What we need is a nature preserve where a diverse range of species can thrive.

Yong Zhao

  • Yong is a Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas. He is also a professional fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, Victoria University in Australia, as well as a Global Chair at the University of Bath, UK. He has published over 100 articles and 30 books, including Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes (2016), Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting Top 5 Ed Tech Mistakes (2015), Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the Best (and the Worst) Education System in the World (2014), Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization (2009), and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (2012).
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