Arthur Goldstein is a veteran high school teacher in New York City. In this post, he asserts that every child can learn, but there are obstacles put in the way of teachers.

First, students must be willing to make the effort to learn.

Second, class sizes must not be too large.

Third, it is absurd to expect every student to learn the same things in the same way at the same pace.

He writes:

”There may be exceptions, actually, but I really believe this in general. The main thing that stands in the way of that goal, though, is often administration. Of course not every student will cooperate, and of course not all students will pay attention, study, or do homework. Of course some will fail. For the most part, though, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have passed.

“Every teacher I know has heard about differentiated instruction. I know some supervisors have demanded multiple lesson plans for different students. Sometimes supervisors assume teachers have nothing to do and unlimited time. This is not a good approach. We have a lot to do, our work is important, and it’s sad when we’re burdened with wasteful nonsense.

“Differentiation is a tough demand when you have 34 students in a class. Of course, class size tends to be overlooked by administration, and in fact when I go to grieve oversized classes, they fight to keep them that way. It’s an ironic attitude from an organization that claims to put, “Children First, Always.” Of course, the real meaning of that slogan is demoralizing and devaluing those of us who do the important work of teaching the children (the very children Moskowitz Academies would not accept on a bet).

“I’d argue that differentiation is a fundamental human trait. Unless you are in possession of a remarkable lack of sensitivity, you treat people differently. I see, in my classroom, students who will challenge me. I’ll let them do it, and I’ll challenge them back. I have nothing to lose, really. If they manage to out-talk me, I must be doing a great job. I also see very sensitive and reserved students, students who need my understanding, students for whom a harsh word would be hurtful and damaging…

”There is spectacular irony in the fact that our system demands that every one of our students take the same tests. I mean, if we’re going to talk differentiation, how can it possibly exist when final assessment is exactly the same for everyone?

“Every kid can learn, but not necessarily the same things in the same way. I’m glad to see that NY State has finally allowed some leeway for different students with different needs. It’s a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough. Every kid can learn, but every kid can learn differently at different times. Some kids need more time than others. Some have learning disabilities. Some don’t know English. A full 10% of our kids are homeless, and as long as we continue to ignore that, we won’t be serving them no matter how often we give them the meaningless label of “college ready.”

“Learning is not binary, and it’s not multiple choice either. It really is individual. The sooner administrators can understand that simple notion, the better we will serve our children.”