Education Should Be Individualized

The boy reading.

Take a look at this picture. You’ll see a boy reading on his own for pleasure.

Nothing really remarkable about that, is there? Boys do it all the time. And if you look closely at the book, you’ll see that the reading material isn’t exactly Shakespeare, or even “grade level material.”

And yet, he reads. On his own. For pleasure.

You see, barely a year ago, my boy would hardly sit still long enough to have an infant’s book read to him. For those of you who don’t already know, he is on the autism spectrum, and while he certainly loves books and words, reading, and specifically reading for comprehension has alluded him for years.

And yet today, he reads. On his own. For pleasure.

This is something that I honestly wasn’t sure he would ever do. We never stopped hoping, pushing and working for it, but I wasn’t sure it would happen.

And yet today, he reads. On his own. For pleasure.

What you’re witness to here is the evidence of an unbelievable amount of hard work by countless teachers, aides, therapists, friends, grandparents, big sister, and parents. You’re witness to endless amounts of patience, hope, love, and faith that he could learn. (I’m not going to name them here for two reasons. First, the list is really long. Second, I’m convinced that having a teacher’s name on this blog will actually result in that teacher being abused, threatened, or subjected to retaliation by the district leadership. Call me paranoid if you will; I’ve seen it happen before.)

This is the result of never, ever giving up on my boy.

And it’s the result of one more thing.

All Education Should Be Individualized

I want you to listen to me for a moment because I’m about to say the single most important truth that after 40 years of both being a student and working with students I’ve ever uncovered:

All education, for every child, should be individualized to that child.

My boy has the benefit of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as a result of being on the autism spectrum. This is a plan that we as his parents create every year with his teachers to tailor his education to his specific needs. It’s an extremely difficult and stressful task (we’re trying to plan out what will be successful ways of reaching him in the coming school year—there’s no greater responsibility). There is never enough data. There are never enough resources. There is never enough time.

And yet, somehow, mostly because everyone involved in the process loves the boy, we manage to develop a plan for him that is, quite frankly, working miracles in his life. (See the picture above for all the evidence you need.)

This is crucial for my son, but you know what, it is also crucial for my daughter, who is not on the spectrum, who is rather in the gifted program at school.

The Move Toward Standardization Kills Education

Individualization is the key to my son’s success. And yet our district, state, and nation are running away from individualization as fast as they can. They make wild, completely unsubstantiated claims, that this move toward standardization is “for the children.”

It isn’t.

They claim that education should be standardized, “like golfballs.”

They’re wrong.

They claim that having standardized “standards,” and standardized curriculum will raise everyone to the same level. As they offer absolutely zero evidence supporting their claim, and as we have decades of evidence supporting the opposite (look at the success of the IDEA legislation as just one example), we have no reason to believe that they are correct. They’re not.

It won’t.

Who Standardization Is Actually For: Businesses

So if standardization isn’t for the children, who is it for?

It’s for businesses and industry. Why do you think the Chamber of Commerce is pushing for standardizing education? Because it will boost the bottom line of businesses who sell textbooks, tests, and services to schools.

If businesses can convince us that there’s only one product we need to buy, and we absolutely need to buy it, their profit margins soar. (Take a look at Pearson, Teach for America, or nearly any other company selling services to schools these days. It’s a growth industry right now.)

Why This Is Happening

So why are we allowing this to happen? Because we’ve bought into the lie that we cannot afford to individualize instruction for our students.

This is not true.

We can afford it if we decide that it’s important.

We are simply buying into the lie that standardization will bring the same results as individualization. And with that lie, we’re willing to spend more and more on companies, and less and less on our students.

We’re going about this completely backwards, and it’s time to turn the ship around.

Our kids, who are individuals, deserve no less.

Individualized instruction has allowed my son to take his first steps toward a independent, productive, and happy life. That’s the purpose of education.

He reads. On his own. For pleasure. Today is an amazing day in our home. And I thank everyone who helped to make it happen. You know who you are. Thank you.

Every child deserves to have an individualized education.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. Add to the list of businesses that are succeeding under the current era of education profiteering (even as our students lose ground): Appleton. Now we’re contracting out our after school programs to a tutoring company. How is the district able to afford such largess? Don’t get me wrong — the after school programs I’ve seen in this district were essentially a babysitting environment so including instructional programs sounds great. But to farm it out? I can’t see how this is sustainable.

      1. NOW they pay $35 per week. The carefully worded release specifically said the cost would remain at that level for the rest of this school year. I expect it will go up next year, and that students in Title 1 schools (or perhaps any student on free/reduced lunch) will receive a tuition subsidy or waiver, while other students will be expected to pay the higher rate. Free breakfast, free lunch, free dinner, free tutoring, free meals over the summer, free computers, free Internet access at home — FOR SOME STUDENTS. All part of an effort to woo and dazzle the DOJ. Or perhaps I’m just jaded.

        1. Kellie- since we are feeding them next will be housing them. Oh wait technically we do. Never mind. Its still the great divide between the haves and the have not. The great Dr. W can manipulate the data all he wants but it still ends up about those who work hard and those who want a hand out.

  2. Russell, you know so well that this Choir Member is singing right along with you, loudly and clearly, every time I have an opportunity to discuss education, every time I am able to coordinate individualized, continuous-progress, hands-on, real-life application-oriented activities.
    You really should take an hour to visit our home during a Kids Trek Learning Center Brain Trek Session. This is the way school could and should be conducted. I am so very thankful that I retired and that miracles occurred so that I am able to provide Brain Trek and Kids Trek for North Alabama families.
    My main worry is for those families in which there are no adults willing or able to accompany their children to programs that will develop a love of learning in the household. Unless we reach those families, they will have only bureaucratic education institutions on which to depend for the young people’s education.
    There must be answers to these quandaries. I am glad that you provide these reviews, critiques, and conversation opportunities. Perhaps through these discussions, we shall find solutions. At least the children know that we care enough about them to strive for positive changes.

  3. What a beautiful thing to see your son reading! I know you must be so proud!

    Thank you for telling your story as proof of what a good, individualized education can do! But, as the trend of standardization and bringing the bottom half up continues in education, the top half, our bright, gifted students, have shown very little educational progress. If our goal in education is to see every child reach his potential, then an individualized education should be for all students. You are so right! If we need to boost standardized test scores, then helping each and every child reach his full potential is essential.

    My own son is proof of what a lack of individualization in education, neglect of the bright and gifted, and boredom in the classroom can do. I write a blog about my son and how the educational system failed him. I wish I had an educational success story to share. Now, we are homeschooling.

    Standardized education results in standardized students. Are all our children really all alike? Standardization kills creativity and creativity is necessary for the future success of our society. The dramatic and on-going increases in homeschooling is proof that this standardized educational ship is sailing in the wrong direction!

    Thanks for a great post!

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