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Why we should Stop Cutting off Students' Legs

written by JIBRAN EL BAZI |

Procrustes' bed

Like many stories from ancient Greek Mythology, they serve as relevant examples to current day situations. The Story of Procrustes is no different.

Wikipedia provides an excellent, summarized version of the story, so instead of retelling it here myself, I'll share a quote: 

"...There he [Procrustes] had a bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith's hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fitted the bed exactly." - Source

What I'm trying to say here is that Procrustes' bed is much the same as the majority of our educational system right now. Students' legs are cut off, or their bodies stretched too far. Education nowadays only fits the average student. But there is no average student.

Education currently

"Education" is too broad of a word to describe the specifics of day-to-day teaching in schools. So to make it a little bit more specific-- education has certain aspects that a student thrives in or not. 

Where a student succeeds differs on a student-by-student basis. 

Not every school or university has these same aspects (or elements). But what they often do have, is that these elements are set in stone. E.g., they don't change based on the need of the student.

We know that people (and students are people you know...) have different ways of learning. Not only differences in ability to learn but also different characteristics in all kinds of ways. These differences are seldom reflected in education.*

Let me highlight just a few of these variations 

(which usually run on a spectrum for each individual)

  • Intelligence
  • Energy
  • Self-consciousness
  • Self-discipline
  • Visual/Spatial learning
  • Auditory learning
  • Learning by doing
  • Trust needed to learn (e.g., need to have a personal bond with the teacher)
  • Family stability
  • Specific learning disabilities(e.g., dyslexia)

To describe what goes on in a school in a particular sense, using some of the above examples:

Some schools or teachers focus very much on 'self-disciplined auditory learners' (girls usually thrive here more than boys, for example). 

Or in other cases, the school is outstanding at 'helping kids with their diagnosed learning  disabilities' but neglect students with high intelligence (they get bored, drop out, cause a ruckus).

Mostly it comes down to attention, I think. Not having the time to be attentive to a student will make you unable to help them with their specific abilities, difficulties, and quirks. 

So many students per teacher is a remnant of the Industrial Revolution. In the industrial revolution, almost all kids were taught the same knowledge and skills so that they could 'work the line' in a factory; this is not how the economy works anymore.

*Side note: I think the current trend of gender, color, etc. 'diversity' is trying to cater to this a bit. But they completely miss the forest for the trees. They only shine a light on a tiny part of the problems in education. They are explicitly focussing on symptoms and not causes. Thereby enlargening the 'lack-of-diversity'-symptoms at the cost of not making visible the actual need these (minority) students have.

Don't blame teachers

To drive home the point a little bit more, please don't blame teachers. They are, most of the time, compassionate, caring, and hard-working people. They try to work with the (lack of) tools they at hand, to still give their students the best they need. Sadly, they are not in control of the 'Educational System.

A few extra's

Personalize everything! Except education

I find it so strange that everything is personalized except for education.

You have personalized movies, music, books, advertisements, news, cars, phones, clothes, workouts. Even @!%$ personalized diapers for Pete's sake!

Not everything is bad

I have been talking in a general sense for the last few minutes. And some schools do spring up in this niche of student-lead-learning. Luckily my wife and I found one (seriously considered putting kids through homeschooling before that) with small classes, engaged teachers, and student lead learning. But I argue all kids should be able to go through the educational system with teaching matched to them.


I don't have a solution per se. Just that I see the problems in education are more critical than it is portrayed now. School is where almost every human being (in the west) gets an enormous amount of influence. Especially now that most families in western countries have two parents working, it's even more important that education is nothing short of excellent.

NB: I was a teacher (high school STEM) for the first five years of my career. I chose to venture out to something completely different in large part because of the disillusionment I felt in the educational environment. 

For example, it was near impossible for me to give each kid in a class the tools and help they needed with a classroom of 32 students that you only see for fifty minutes a week. Kids in puberty mostly need a personal connection before they want to learn anything from you. But having 1.5 minutes per week per student is not enough to get to know someone, of course.


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About jibran el bazi

Jibran el Bazi shares his experiences, findings, and insights on how to live a fulfilling life while pursuing your purpose. When he doesn't write in third person, he covers topics like Purpose, Creative Output, Habits, Productivity, Mindset, Decision Making, and Entrepreneurship.

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