"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Edison, Einstein, and Everyone else

Thomas Edison was intelligent and creative. Albert Einstein was brilliant and insightful. Both men left their fingerprint on western civilization through their contributions to science and society. Neither however, was predicted to have a great future when they were young. Einstein, for example, was a patent clerk repeatedly passed over for promotion because he was so "ordinary."

Both of these men were, in their younger days, low achievers. Both had trouble in school...and were considered less than capable by the adults who were charged with their education.

Why was it that they were missed? How did they get from being "below average," to their positions as leaders in the sciences?

I'm not an expert in either man's biography, and I'm not about to go on a big research mission just for a blog entry, but I can take a guess as to why no one realized how highly intelligent these two men were. The adults evaluating them did not understand the difference between ability and achievement.

The online version of the American Heritage Dictionary has the following definitions:

ABILITY: 1. The quality of being able to do something, especially the physical, mental, financial, or legal power to accomplish something.

ACHIEVEMENT: 1. The act of accomplishing or finishing. 2. Something accomplished successfully, especially by means of exertion, skill, practice, or perseverance.

Simply put, if you have ability you are capable of doing something...if you achieve, you do it.

They are not the same thing. In school, teachers talk of ability grouping when they mean achievement grouping. Putting kids in groups based upon their individual skill levels is grouping by achievement because, as Edison and Einstein proved, you can't determine one's ability by how well you do in school.

So what does this mean for practical use in the classroom? There are several things that educators need to be aware of

1. If a student is a low achiever it does not mean that he/she is of low ability.
2. Children of extreme high ability are entitled to be part of the programs for high ability students whether they are achieving or not.
3. High achievers, while most certainly of high ability, are not necessarily the highest ability students in a given classroom. Not all high achievers are gifted. Not all gifted students are high achievers.

Edison and Einstein were highly intelligent, yet were branded as failures at school. They were, however, able to persevere and eventually their lives were marked by great achievement. The damage done to students by our current test-crazed culture is that low achievers who have high ability are labeled failures and not all of them will be able to overcome the emotional and social impact of that label.

If we don't recognize students of ability no matter what their achievement, then the Einsteins and Edisons in our classrooms today may be silent in the future.

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