The US Air Force & Progressive Education

Edward Kuh, Head of School
What does the United States Air Force and Progressive Education have in common?
Both see people as unique individuals.
If the answer to this leaves you scratching your head just as much as the question, then I invite you to read a recent article in the Harvard Ed. Magazine titled Beyond Average by lecturer, Todd Rose. He shares the story of how in the 1950s the Air Force found that few pilots were fitting into the standard cockpit of their planes that had been last redesigned in the 1920s. After measuring more than 4,000 pilots, they found there was no one design that would accommodate a wide range of body types – each pilot’s profile was unique. When the plane manufacturer proposed a cockpit that used average dimensions, they found that rather than working for most pilots, it worked for none!  There was no such thing as an average pilot body type – they were all unique. To solve the problem, they realized they needed a flexible design; one where, for example, the seat could move to accommodate people with shorter or longer legs or arms. Thus, the adjustable seat was born!
Like the Air Force, Fayerweather, a progressive school, understands that each individual is unique. We believe that all children deserve an education that “fits” them. We also know that if our educational practices are not flexible or are too standardized, no one will benefit. Some students learn better working alone in a quiet place with little distractions, while others thrive working cooperatively while lying on the rug. Some students learn to read early and easily, but may need more time to consolidate math concepts, while other students have just the opposite learning profile. It’s important to point out that using different methods to teach children a skill (reading or math for example), does not mean that there is not a standard goal to be met. In fact, by adjusting the pilot’s cockpit to fit their body, it enables them to fly the plane safely and consistently well.  Equally, adjusting the learning environment for each child helps ensure they excel academically, socially and emotionally. The result is that our graduates continue on to attend an array of public and private high schools and colleges, where their deep interests and higher level critical thinking skills propel them to assume leadership roles both in and outside the classroom.
So how do we as educators meet the needs of each child if everyone needs something a little different? By a combination of techniques and by using a co-teaching model, we are able to regularly and individually assess each child both formally and informally. In PreK, this may mean sitting with a child one on one and asking them to complete a set of tasks. Based on the teacher’s observations, different materials are then made available in the classroom (in the dramatic play corner, the writing center, the sand table etc.). In fifth grade, regular assessment means having students write in a daily journal in which the teacher responds. Such back and forth individualized communication and assessment allows teachers to create an accurate picture of the child’s strengths and weaknesses and in turn, provide real time adjustments to future work and assignments. 
Our fall curriculum nights are just around the corner, a time when teachers will share many examples of how they create a “fit” for each child. We hope these examples not only help you understand what makes FSS unique, but also help you explain progressive education when those not familiar with it ask, “Progressive Education? Isn’t that some kind of feel-good thing from the 60s?” Now you can reply, “You are right that progressive schools like Fayerweather are uniquely fun places to learn. And, we also share many core beliefs with the highly regarded US Air Force!”


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Fayerweather Street School | 765 Concord Avenue,  Cambridge, MA 02138 | 617-876-4746
Fayerweather is a private PreK, kindergarten, elementary and middle school. We engage each child’s intellect.