One of the fascinating things I remember learning about childhood development when my girls were little was how is happens in spurts. A child may struggle for months with matching her ABCs with their respective sounds . . and then out of nowhere, something clicks and within a few days, she is reading real picture books . . and then she may stay at that stage for several more months . . . and then she gets a hold of the right book that inspires her and she's reading chapter books in a few weeks . . .
And this is all quite normal. Cognitively, physically, and probably in every other way, we develop not at a continuous steady pace, but in fits and starts. In fact, I bet we probably still grow that way as adults; it's just not as obvious as it is in the tiny years.
Given this fact, am I the only one who finds it absolutely astonishing and completely idiotic the way we run our schools? Education folk talk themselves blue in the face about individual differences -- yet we still expect all children at age 9 or 10 to be in "4th grade" (some abstract label we give to kids who are about age 9 or 10) doing "4th grade math" (whatever that is) and reading at the "4th grade level" (whereever that is). And their success or failure in "4th grade" (again, what is that exactly???) is determined by their mastering this arbitrary set of skills and information bits that somebody somewhere has decided is what every child should be learning when they are 9 or 10, and in the 4th grade.
For a few years now, my mind has been envisioning a school that scraps the whole grade level notion (such a stupid construct anymore) and allows children to acquire the skills and information they need at the pace -- and in the manner -- in which it works for them. To me, this is absolutely a "duh" thing. Why have schools not done this before now? Yes, it would be an administrative challenge, but we've certainly tackled worse.
An FB friend introduced me to a blog written by a high school history teacher in Jersey -- a teacher who seems to be of the same mindset as I about such matters. And he has given me a term for what I have been imagining: differentiated learning. I don't think this is a new term -- but actually accomplishing this in our schools would be a new thing.
And it seems to me, if the United States really wants to remain the "leader of the free world", it would be a critical thing.