The Clare Spark Blog

February 1, 2014

Harvard ed school leads in vaguely dumbing down

ED. cover Winter 2014

ED. cover Winter 2014

The Winter edition of Ed., the journal of the Harvard Graduate School of Education proudly announces in its featured article “All Along,” the existence of an innovation to the curriculum—one expected to remedy the discarded  one-size fits all curriculum and teaching methods that fail, they say, to make allowances for disabled students and those with English language deficiencies.

Using the new neurosciences, Universal Design Learning will supplement Common Core, and allow for true individuality and its associated benefit: “point of view.” (On the Common Core debate see

The long article is remarkably vague, however, about whether there is any method to their innovation, which I view as leveling down, while pretending to be leveling up. Dropping the name of Howard Gardner, resident “genius” who, as I have described in another blog,  believes that girls are talented narcissists, while black boys are great at basketball (see, Harvard is remarkably vague about the actual content being dropped on the newly individualized schoolchildren.

“These days, [Jeff Mundorf, a teacher of fifth grade in Naples, Florida] presents information to students in a variety of ways and lets them present what they’ve learned in ways that fits their learning preferences. For example, during the unit he teaches on the US Constitution, he gives his students a choice of reading or listening to an audio recording from the textbook, watching an explanation that he has prerecorded, viewing a video on, or listening to a musical explanation of the Constitution on The difference in his classroom has been stark. Discipline problems are “almost nonexistent” because…each student is engaged with learning. “Once you think about it, a one-size-fits-all –approach to the curriculum becomes kind of silly…We need to help students understand their own learning and give kids their own path to explore. I have no control over the standardized curriculum, or who’s assigned to my classroom. What I can control is the flexibility of my goals, my methods, my materials, and my assessments.” (pp26-27)

recommended reading.jpg

Another authority ends the article with this hope: “We want to see this approach to be the norm, we want these tools to be available to everyone. We want to see UDL as a reform initiative, one that we hope will really take hold nationwide and worldwide.” (The author of this piece, one Katie Bacon, has written for such liberal outlets as The Atlantic, the NYT, and The Boston Globe.)

Dear reader, you can wave goodbye to debates over the content of the US Constitution, or whether or not fifth graders are even intellectually ready to grasp the fine points of our founding document.



  1. I was fortunate to attend Catholic school as a child. I transferred to public schools in 6th grade after my parents divorce. I remember a few things vividly:
    How chaotic they were.
    How much “stuff” they had, like fully outfitted gyms, athletic fields, chemistry labs, cafeterias. You name it, they were swimming in it.
    I was at that point two years ahead of everyone in math. In 6th grade we were covering things we’d covered in 4th grade in Catholic school.
    Conclusion: There is no real connection between how much money and stuff you throw at educating children and the educational outcome.

    I was also fortunate in attending a math and science high school which was a holdover from it’s Victorian founding. It was an all boys school which was just transitioning to co-ed. There were still traces of the old style all around us though. Ties were encouraged. We had instructors, not teachers, We were addressed as ‘gentlemen’ as in “Settle down, gentlemen!” in a stern tone of voice. I remember hating it at times because it was so rigorous and demanding. Then as a senior, I saw the course outline for seniors at that school in 1905. Calculus. Mechanics of materials. Latin. Probably a year farther along then we were, and we were years ahead in our education from any school in the area. That school was famous for it’s kick-out rate. If you failed a course, any course, you were given the opportunity to make it up over the summer. If you didn’t, out you went.

    So I agree. Many reforms are really about getting more kids through the system and to a degree more quickly and more easily. And when I hear schools are failing to educate properly because they don’t have enough money I always laugh, remembering my Catholic school experience.

    On a related general education note, there’s the axiom that government does everything badly, except pad its own pockets. It took years for me to sort out why this was true. It was though reading economics (each branch of knowledge seems to give a unique set of insights) that I finally understood. Government is incentivized to fail. When it fails, it claims it has insufficient money or power or resources to succeed. It then get’s those things so it can ‘help the children’ or ‘help the elderly’ or ‘help the poor’ or whatever else it’s claiming to do. When it fails even more badly, the same reason is offered. We need to pay teachers more, we need better retirement benefits to attract the right people, so we need more money. So round and round it goes, and people fall for this scam year in and year out.

    The best thing we could do for children is privatize the entire educational system. I like the school voucher approach. Everyone pays into a kitty, and when the time comes to educate your child you get a voucher for X dollars. Schools will be forced to compete for students or go out of business. Isn’t capitalism awful and wonderful? It forces out of business those who aren’t providing the best product or services to their customers, simply because those customers – you and me – have chosen other providers. How fast do you think schools would improve under those conditions? The prospect of one’s own hanging tends to concentrate the mind.

    Comment by Michael Hiteshew — February 2, 2014 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: