Honoring a broader array of skills

Powerful, personal and passionate. That’s how I’d describe more than 20 responses to last week’s column recommending a “second opinion” in medicine and education. All over Minnesota, and the U.S., people described themselves or their children as benefiting from a second view. Here are a few examples and what this can mean for schools.
Karen, now an internationally recognized college professor recalled: “My third-grade teacher told my mother that I wasn’t college material! Amazing.”  Bill wrote: “My son was the kind of good-with-your-hands-bad-at-academics kid you describe. … Adopted at age 7, (he) is a carpenter, and the smartest guy with his hands I know.”

Thomas explained, “I was in shop class in 7th grade and couldn’t plane a piece of wood straight while other kids I thought were dumb were making incredible inlaid chessboards. The teacher took me aside one day and said, ‘Even though you’re not so good at this, you are good at the things that are important for being a success in life.’… I’ve (spent) a good portion of my career … advocating for the kids in shop class who made the great chessboards!”

Matthew wrote: “Cursive was a major problem with my teachers – not because of the product, but because of how I held my pencil. I had fluid, excellent writing, but my grip was ‘wrong.’ This resulted in calls home in 2nd grade and a recommendation to be in the ‘Cursive Club,’ … a remedial cursive session in place of recess one day a week, in 5th grade.

“My parents thought it was ridiculous, so they (and I) ignored it. … I have unique, clear, elegant cursive (and I only write in cursive) that has served me well. Years ago … I made a font of a print version of my handwriting. It’s been downloaded over 400,000 times.

“In addition, I was recommended to go to speech therapy when I was about 12. Turned out my teeth had to be adjusted a bit. I had two removed. By 15 or so I was in great shape. I love public speaking, it’s one of my favorite things.”

Tom, a newspaper editor recalled: “Your comment on shop class reminded me that the only D I ever received came in 7th grade physical education during the quarter we had “tumbling.” I could not even turn a forward somersault, and the parallel bars and the high bar looked more like opportunities for a broken neck than fun. I was a sports nut in high school, and went on to captain the basketball varsity one year, but in seventh grade, the concept of the knee bone being connected to the thigh bone was still foreign to me.”

He continued: “As for shop class, I was a C student there, too. I did much better in more classical studies like history, English and math. In some ways, I wish it were otherwise. When something goes wrong on the home front, I often say to my wife, ‘Call the man,’ instead of trying to fix it myself.”

Gary, a veteran educator who works with schools throughout the country, believes, “one size does not fit all, or even most. Ideally, every student would have an Individual Education Plan. … Each student has his or her unique interests, skills, learning styles, and personalities. … As kids … we knew that we were better at some things than others and other kids were better than we were at other things.” Gary recommended Ken Robinson’s illustrated lecture on changing schools:


Rosanne, formerly a Florida public school principal responded: “The more alternatives we have for our students, the more success stories we’ll have. … Given the right school environment – ALL students can succeed.”

Wayne, a veteran award-winning educator wisely concluded: “A serious shortcoming of conventional schooling is that nonacademic students (not good at reading and/or math) are treated as poor or failures. That takes an enormous toll on a student’s sense of self when, in fact, the student may be strong in nonacademic areas. In schools, those areas just don’t count for much – a tragedy. … When will we learn and act upon the fact that not all students learn the same? Or that schools need to recognize, prize and reward many kinds of learning? To do otherwise continues an inhumane aspect of schooling.”


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator, and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, please comment below.