Born to Learn

“I didn't know he had it in him.” How many times have you heard this statement after someone earned an achievement?

An old high school friend recently shared the following Facebook post addressed to our former classmates that fired my dendrites around the concept of potential.

“I wish I had been smarter in high school, smart enough to recognize the great potential of friends and classmates. I undersold people - people I went to high school with are now: award winning teachers, college professors, successful business owners, eloquent writers, creative souls, state legislators, city councilwomen, company presidents/vice-presidents, community leaders, church leaders, inventors, fabulous caregivers and more. Congratulations to all of you - and my apologies for not having recognized your potential when we were teenagers.” - Jean Cook

Her post resonated with me as an educator as I couldn’t help but wonder if our former teachers saw our potential and passions as we sat at our desks; young, upturned faces waiting for teacher direction.

When a young Bruce Springsteen attended school as a boy in Freehold, New Jersey, he felt he didn’t fit inside the box. "I was probably one of the smartest kids in my class at the time. Except you would've never known it. You would’ve never known it. Because where my intelligence lay was not, wasn't able to be tapped within that particular system. And I didn't know how to do it myself until music came along and opened me up not just to the world of music but to the world period, you know, to the events of the day. To the connection between culture and society and those were things that riveted me, engaged me in in life," Springsteen said. "Gave me a sense of purpose. What I wanted to do. Who I wanted to be. The way that I wanted to do it. What I thought I could accomplish through singing songs.
<a href="" target="_blank">Pixabay Image</a>
Pixabay Image

I imagine several of Springsteen’s former teachers said, “I didn’t know he had it in him.” when “Born to Run” hit No. 3 on the Billboard charts in 1975. Springsteen is the face of every learner, who has ever been cattle-prodded through our archaic educational system. His description depicts what he needed to be a successful learner; personalized learning. Just imagine if Springsteen had known how he learned best and his teachers encouraged him to Access information, Engage with content, and Express what he understood. (Bray, McClaskey. 2014). He would have made learning personal in order to be successful.

Did you know that many of our schools still approach learning based on grades, rote learning, nightly homework, recipe-style assignments and bell schedules; all under the umbrella of compliance? When the main focus in schools is conformity at all cost, learning is stifled. Think about this for a moment, in most states the manner in which we approach education is no different than in the mid-19th century. In 1944, John Dewey shook the education world when he said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” What has changed in seventy-two years? Sadly, not much in many school districts across the country.

Our society has made sure that we’ve moved forward in just about every aspect of civilization except our most important; learning. Ironically, every other occupation relies on a good education and learning. Yet, we’re still stuck in the factory-model mode of education. How can we encourage learners to get out of their comfort zones and to be college and career-ready while learning in a 19th century educational model?

Some may argue technology has vastly improved learning, but throwing technology at learners who are still in an antiquated educational environment is like installing a v8 engine into Fred Flintstone’s car. The car will go fast, but will be all over the road with no direction. Technology alone doesn’t create learners, good pedagogy does. Do not be fooled by adaptive learning systems claiming they personalize learning. These systems do not allow teachers to use their knowledge or relationship-building skills to reach every learner. Frankly, learners are no better off with these learning systems than a worksheet.

Slowly but surely, education is progressing and striving to address needs for all learners. Currently, ten states are implementing competency-based education, personalized learning and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). New Hampshire has been leading the pack in executing a competency-based system state-wide since 2012. Now with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), schools across the nation will be encouraged to​ change the factory-based model of education. ESSA will allow more flexibility for states and less regulatory authority, while moving away from high stakes accountability that we experienced with No Child Left Behind. Funding will be available for personalized learning and educational technology. Learn how 5 states are progressing by reading a new report investigating the policy and practices of five New England states as they are transitioning toward competency-based education by Competency Works. iNACOL has published an important resource for states moving toward personalizing learning: Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning. And be sure to read how Universal Design for Learning removes barriers to learning for all learners on the CAST website.

I’m not only excited about the future of education, I’m excited about our present. The throes of change can be difficult, but it leads to growth and progression. It’s time. For years we’ve underestimated not only our learners, but our schools. Now they will get the chance to shine as they begin encouraging learner voice and choice, flexible learning environments, self-efficacy and purpose.

​Look out schools, we see your potential. We knew you had it in you.


Bray, Barbara, and Kathleen McClaskey. "Access, Engage, and Express: The Lens for Teaching and Learning." Personalize Learning:. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2016. .

Mason, Anthony. "Bruce Springsteen: “I’m Still in Love with Playing”." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 18 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

"Bruce Springsteen Biography." Ed. A&E Networks Television, 5 July 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

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