Personalization Depends On The Person

Jose Vilson Resources


Any so-called innovation deserves a second and third look when it’s brought to kids, even if it’s from Sir Ken Robinson. I saw this in my timeline, which says the following:

“Education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed. The key 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.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Whenever anyone mentions personalization, it usually involves some sort of tech, akin to extreme differentiation. Some folk have bastardized the word to include folks like Khan Academy or Rocketship, where the tech is more important than the pedagogy. Children get a responsive program in front of them that moves along depending on correct answers, but that’s responsive, not personalized. Slight difference.

Let me preface my forthcoming critique by saying that I do believe in personalization generally. I think we need to better direct our school system so that students can discover their own paths without feeling like they’ve failed some ominous adult’s expectations. I generally think students have to go a certain route because that’s what society says, within reason. We don’t have enough student voice in education, and fostering students voices matters in any democracy.

Having said that, personalization also depends a lot on the person doing the personalizing. Some of my favorite youth activists (thinking Stephanie Rivera and Hannah Nguyen here) always remind me how adults love to impose their adult issues onto kids. “Personalization” means different things. Some kids really don’t know the things they’re capable of. Some adults, neither.

Personalization looks different across race, class, and gender lines. For example, when I tell you how many teachers just want to dump kids in vocational schools or alternative schools when it’s not necessary without asking them, that’s a problem. Some adults are still so caught up with which jobs some kids deserve and who looks good for which jobs that, if we take personalization the wrong way, we’re going back to making choices for kids at times when we can make choices with them.

We need appropriate baselines, too, and a timeline for when adults should make suggestions for their education. It’s a touchy thing, and we need our system to be much more responsive than it currently is. Personalization is more powerful when, as educators, we show students other doors and let them decide. We’re just giving them tools. However those tools look like, at least we’ve given them more pathways than were originally available to them without us.

But that’s none of my business. Ain’t nothin’ personal.