“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”
― Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
Vygotsky’s theory of the More Knowledgeable Other veers away from the largely traditional and conservative view of ability as a fixed central factor and the principal determinant of learning and intelligence. Sadly, this currency creates the very disparity it purports to solve and impinges on the child’s self-image. Though it is obvious that teachers do not intentionally set out to harm their students. Yet in the end, we realize that it’s not the intent that matters but the result. Student do pick up on how their teachers view them. Inevitably, students do live up (or down) to the expectations of their teachers. Students do end up resenting those labels, and sometimes the pressure mounts to maintain certain standards that they are held up against. It does not benefit either the lower ability students or their “smarter” counterparts. It becomes a no-win situation as the smart ones slowly succumb to pressure and spiral into depression and the label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the so-called “bottom performers”.
Why spend time winnowing students according to their abilities when teachers can have their heterogeneous classrooms running like a well-oiled machine by gauging their students’ interests, personalities and capabilities and placing them in situations where their individual strengths can be used to leverage and complement others’ weaknesses?
By incorporating Vygotsky’s theory of the More Knowledgeable Other, lower ability students are not made to feel less important than the rest of the group. This promotes unity and diversity in the classroom. 1 Corinthians 12 states that the body in its singularity is composed of many parts, and God has so placed these parts where He wants them to be. All parts are equal, and one is not superior to another.
For the sake of preciseness, let me quote the Bible:
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Being a trainer is disconcerting, draining, stress-inducing and nerve-wracking. It’s not as glamorous as you think it is. The clothes, the shoes, the demeanor and the confidence are nothing but smokes and mirrors. I feel duped. When I first started out in the field of training, I was a ball of mess. My knees were shaking and there were dinosaurs in my stomach. (The butterflies had rapidly morphed into megalosaurus-sized creatures that threatened my mental stability.) Just the thought of being entrusted with “educating” 24 learners at a time, making sure they were “picture-perfect” and ready for assessments at the end of two weeks while facing random observations from your training manager was enough to make one curl himself up in the corner of the room and suffer a nervous breakdown.
Frankly, there was no hallelujah moment. I don’t remember there being a time when the heavens opened up and angels started singing and showing me the way. When I first started de-grouping my trainees according to their abilities, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I wasn’t sure if it would work. I’d had one exasperating class after another mainly because of the dwindling pool. I would have classes where there would be one or two strong contenders at most while the rest were a dizzying array of black horses, wild cards, nuisance candidates and charity cases. As much as we wanted to preserve the quality, training is still a numbers game. And so we gambled. I had nothing left to lose. I figured that everything that could go wrong already did in the blink of an eye. I was tired and at my wits’ end and was dangerously hanging by a very narrow thread of hope and sanity. Isn’t it strange how we cease thinking about the costs and we’re brashly treading a very narrow ledge?
Let me just correct a perception you may have at this point that I just completely let go and let the trainees run loose like a bunch of screaming banshees. I did no such thing. I merely chose to utilize and tap into the resources I has however limited they were. It was pretty clear to me that my “no-so-smart” students were not going to be experts in the two weeks I had with them. The team stopped betting on that because I had already set their expectations.
At that time, I didn’t know that Vygotsky had a name to it. Frankly, I don’t think it would have mattered at that point. And just like that, my classroom was no longer comprised of 24 empty vessels to be filled, 24 blank spaces to write on, 24 needy mouths to be fed. The shy ones, the outgoing ones, the quiet ones, the loud ones and the strugglers all worked together not without a hitch, but they all walked away as partners and social equals.