The Age of the Average prevents children from blossoming.
The dream that every child is given chances and opportunities to become the best they can, is a dream that it is worth striving for. Yet, this idea rests on the assumption that this can be achieved on a child’s own terms. One thing that stands in the way of this it the Age of the Average.
The End of Average: How to Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose explores how almost all measures that be make on complicated and creative children reduce them to one-dimensional beings.
On paper, we may value uniqueness and different ways of solving problems but when it comes to embracing these ideas in schools and society there is still a long way to go.
The idea of “average-size-fits-all model” has been used or more that a century and this model fails to recognize talents. The first person who introduced the idea about averageness was Adolphe Quetelet. In the early nineteenth century, the astronomer and statistician came up with what was then a novel idea when he was trying to measure planetary speed – he used the average of astronomical observations.
Adolphe was convinced that by using the average of several observations the result would be accurate. The idea that all the data points to the correct speed and the deviation was an error.
The idea that the average was perfect was introduced. Average became a sought out perfection.
Average may be great when you are an astronomer but the idea spread to other areas. And here is when the problem with the average began. The idea of the average man was introduced in 1835, the concept of averages was now used on human beings.
Today, we live in a world filled with averages from IQ, to body mass index (BMI), average weight, to average scores on tests in school.
Sometimes it is obvious that if you design for everybody you design for nobody. For example, the seats in cars are now adjustable since the average height and weight does not provide a good fit for most people. Yet, if we are discussing something more complex like child development and education it is not so obvious that it might be problematic and even wrong.
Children should be seen and valued as individuals. Yet, in most educational settings children are graded by comparing them to the performance of the average student.
Many of us may know that this is wrong, the performance on a test does not reflect your child’s skills. But we accept it and more importantly we regard it as more or less fair. Todd shows us that these types of measurements are almost always wrong. You might believe that someone has to be average but this idea is flawed.
Average is useful when you are comparing two groups but not when you are talking about an individual. Using average to rank individuals gives an illusion of knowledge but by using the average to describe a child we dismiss the most important things about the child. By seeing their uniqueness, we can map their potentials.
Todd says that embracing new ideas is easy. It is the letting go of old ideas that is hard.