Off the rack education: Give me a perfect size 10 student
Cote, R.
California Association for the Gifted
Vol. 28, No. 3
Summer, 1997

This article by Raenele Cote compares most students' experiences with the experience of shopping. Just like most people are not the perfect size for the clothes they choose off the rack in clothing stores, most students do not fall perfectly into that middle category that most teachers teach to. This article may give teachers a new way to look at how they teach.

Have you ever noticed how education is a lot like shopping at Nordstrom? You enter a classroom, like you enter the store, with high expectations for finding just what you want, something that fits you perfectly, but you often end up settling for quite a bit less.

I have worn a size 10 dress all of my adult life. But I am quite aware that not all size 10s are created equal. Some of us are tall, some are rather short; some are heavier or lighter than others; some are short-waisted, some long. Yet we are all size 10s, and we all head for the same rack in the store where the size 10 garments hang, designed for an ideal: the perfect size 10.

There are a few lucky women whose measurements exactly reflect those of the ideal, the size 10 fit model. They never have to try things on; whatever they select will fit as it if were made for them. The majority of us, however, know that when we take our selections into that small, badly lit dressing room, we will have to make some compromises. Even though, to a critical eye, a garment may be a little too loose, too tight, too short, or too long, we may decide that it fits well enough that we can wear it comfortably.

Another group of size 10s is not quite so lucky. Unless they put themselves in the hands of the alterations department, they run the risk of having their cheeky children comment, "Nice dress, Mom. Too bad they didn't have your size." However, once alterations has worked its magic, these size 10s can wear their dresses as if they, too, were fit models.

Finally, there is another group that cannot get away with off-the-rack dressing or get a good fit with the help of alterations. Maybe it's a question of uneven shoulders or hips, very long arms, or a thick waist. To alter a ready made garment to fit these size 10s would require major reconstruction-an impossibility for even Nordstrom's alterations department. The answer is custom tailoring. Yes, it is more complicated and more expensive than the alternatives, yet with the proper tailoring, these size 10s, too, can look like fit models and be comfortable in their clothing.

When teachers "teach to the middle," they are designing their lesson plans according to the needs of an ideal-the perfect size 10 student. Some students fit the ideal so well that they have no difficulty producing what is expected of them and being understood by their teachers. The majority are not perfect matches but can adapt-most of the time they will be successful in the classroom. Finally, though, there are those students who, no matter what they do, do not and cannot fit the ideal. They need an altered curriculum or a custom-tailored education. Perhaps these students are gifted. Perhaps they are slow learners or have learning disabilities. Perhaps they are students with average abilities whose learning styles differ from those employed by their teachers.

Whatever the cause, these students deserve the chance to maximize their individual potentials. If they need alterations in their curricula or custom-made curricula to do so, we have a duty to provide the necessary adaptations. First and foremost, of course, our teachers and our schools must be willing to recognize the individual needs of students and be willing to respond accordingly. One size does not fit all in education any more that it does on 7th Avenue.

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