You’ve seen schools compared to factory assembly lines, systems designed to produce a uniform product that can safely pass inspection before being released to the market. It turns out that some people (many, actually) don’t feel that is a great way to educate. We’ve realized that expecting everyone to conform to one set of standards is probably not in the best interest of our children – or their futures. But, just as you can’t shut down a factory and immediately expect the employees to start producing their own individual creations, you can’t put the brakes on an educational system that has thrown all of its resources toward one goal for decades and expect teachers to suddenly shape our students into innovators.
In his book, Originals, Adam Grant, an University of Pennsylvania professor, offers ideas for developing a culture of non-conformity. In this interview that he did with Elissa Nadworny, Grant specifically addresses ways that we can help children to grow to be individuals with unique personalities and strong values. He gives advice on rules, group work, and deadlines. He also describes an interesting project he assigned his students that required them to challenge assumptions.
Many times we champion conformity without even realizing it. Certainly there are situations when it is helpful to us as individuals and even beneficial to society. But innovation needs to be encouraged and celebrated as well, and Grant has some suggestions for how to do just that. As a teacher, I have sadly observed students who have surrendered their uniqueness in order to fit into the system. Sometimes, it is difficult to retrieve those uncommon qualities that make people stand out, but I think it’s our responsibility to help our children to embrace them and view them as strengths. If we want each child in future generations to be one-of-a-kind, we need to change the system designed to expect the same from everyone.