## Wednesday, December 7, 2011

### The Lie of Averages

Imagine that you walk into a shoe store.

“I’d like to see this style in a size 10, please.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, ma’am, but we only carry a ladies’ size 6.”

“What?”

“A 6 is the average size, you see, so the buyer for the store figured it would fit more people than any other size and he got a great deal on buying a hundred pairs of the same style in the same size.”

Now, imagine that you walk into a restaurant and ordered an iced tea.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, ma’am, but we only carry one beverage: Coke.”

“What?”

“Yes, you see, we took a poll on what people prefer to drink and found that the greatest number were willing to drink Coke. So the manager decided to save money by buying Coke in bulk. It saves us a lot of trouble, actually. We don’t ever have to ask anybody what they would like to drink. We just give them Coke.”

Ridiculous, right? This is clearly hyperbole. I mean, there’s no way we would put up with that, am I right?

We all know that just because something is average doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. It doesn’t even mean it will work for most people.

Consider the “1.7 kids” statistic (or whatever decimal it is). How many people actually have 1.7 kids? And even those who do won’t once that “bun in the oven” is done.

“Average” is a statistical abstraction. It doesn’t exist in real life. It’s an ideal (Is it? Maybe “compromise” is a better word.) that we come up with by adding up the possibilities and dividing.

It’s plain that the average shoe size won’t fit everybody. It won’t even fit most people.

Now, clearly this is hyperbole. I can buy shoes in my own size. But have you ever noticed how sometimes you have to try on several different styles of shoe in your size until you find a pair that fits comfortably and looks great?

Not every size 10 foot is the same (yeah, I have big feet ;0). Some people have higher arches. Some people have squarer toes. Some people have long narrow feet. Or their feet are wide in the front and narrow at the heel.

Even in my own size, I’m not “average.”

So if we understand that most people cannot wear the average shoe, why do we keep believing the myth that an “average” education will fit most people?

I can go into a shoe store and pick from several different styles and sizes until I find the pair that fits me (both my foot and my personality).

But I do often find myself worrying about how my kiddos measure up to others at their “grade level. And why are those boxed curricula with planned out schedules and all the books you need so enticing?

It would be so much easier if there was an average that could fit everybody based on their age, wouldn’t it? It would be a lot easier if I didn’t have kids with difficulties learning or other issues.

The fact is, my children’s education more important than a pair of cute shoes. And a whole lot more complicated.

Just as I might need to try on several pairs of shoes to find a good fit, I might need to try out different curricula to find what works best. For each kid.

And something that fits one child like a glove in the math department might not stretch around another kid at all.

When a curriculum developer creates their materials, they have to have some particular audience for them in mind. They don’t create them for one particular user (usually, although there are some pretty creative homeschooling parents out there who do just that), but for a group of users they can market to.

They have some kind of “average” user in mind for their product.

The only problem is that the “average” user isn’t truly average at all. Each and every student is a unique individual. Unless you happen to hit upon the curriculum that was written just for your kiddo’s particular idiosyncrasies, chances are that no one program will ever be a 100% perfect fit.

And this is a big part of the reason our family homeschools. It gives us the freedom to tailor each child’s education to that particular child’s needs and talents. I’m not beholden to a school board. I can choose my own curricula.

If I need to drop a book, I can.

If it will take a little longer than a year to finish that math book, so be it.

Or if we’ll make it through 2 math books in a year, we can do that, too.

That gives me a lot of freedom as an educator, but it’s more than a little scary, too. Educating our children is an awesome responsibility, one that we take very seriously around here. So sometimes we compare our children to others to help us see how they are doing, but we continually try to remember that LIE of Averages is just that…a lie.

And none of us really want our children to be average, anyway, do we? We want them to be the very best they can be.

You might also enjoy:

Ramblings and a Resource

Raising Kids: Enjoy the Ride

The Science of Stuffed Animals

#### 1 comment:

1. I really enjoyed reading your post! I also have big feet ;) Ha!

I love how you so clearly explained why "the lie of averages" shouldn't be used in education.

Visiting you (and now following you) from Molly's team :)

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