I’ve never loved the statement, “not all students are the same”. It’s generally used to combat overly generalized processes that end up serving all students ineffectively. It’s also used to encourage viewing students as the individuals that they are with distinct talents and passions, rather than blank-faced cogs in an educational machine.
As much as I support those sentiments I still don’t like it when educators focus on this statement too much. It’s the basis for all of the personalized learning talk in education today, to which I’ve already described my aversion. It’s more than that, though.
Our goal as educators needs to be to look for the commonalities between students that allow us to develop educational techniques that reach more people more effectively. As human beings there are attributes that we all share. We all need to eat and drink. We all need to rest. We all have a great capacity to learn and a certain level of curiosity.
When we celebrate the individuality of students we also need to be conscious of the commonalities we all share, the attributes that make us human. These attributes are so important to discovering the most effective methods to educate. When commonalities are leveraged effectively it allows us to create excellent educational environments where students have a greater sense of autonomy. With personalized education we are creating systems that “know what is best” for the student at any time, but when we give students autonomy within an effective environment we say that the the students know what is best for themselves, giving them more opportunity to make decisions and perhaps even more importantly, make mistakes.
Effective exploration of commonalities can also provide insight in to how to scale education. When ever you talk about scaling education it immediately brings up the idea of students becoming anonymous cogs in an enormous system, but you can’t hope to provide a quality education to every student without figuring out how to scale up educational systems so that they can be provided at a reasonable cost. True commonalities between students give teachers a foundation that allows them to provide a base level of quality that they can build on top of, respecting the individuality of each student.
So while it’s good to recognize that all students are individuals with unique traits, experiences, passions, talents, etc., it’s also good to recognize that as human beings we share significant commonalities and the more we understand those commonalities, the more we can build effective and scalable systems that don’t sacrifice the individuality of each student.