Ban the Average! Design Education for the Edges

By Kimberly Hudson

In 1952, the Air Force realized it had a problem. Good pilots were flying better planes, yet their results were worse.

The problem was not the pilots, the training nor the technology – it was the cockpit.

It was designed to fit the “average” pilot. But when it came to size, each pilot had a jagged side profile.

So the Air Force banned the average and demanded that companies design cockpits to the edges.

They did and performance improved.

Few of us have ever sat in a cockpit. But we have sat in a classroom, which is the cockpit of our economy.

That economy is hurt by more than 1.2 million high school dropouts each year.

At least 4% of them are intellectually gifted. That means we are losing more than 50,000 of our brightest minds every year.

Blame often lands on students, teachers and parents. But think back to the Air Force example. How much of this problem is just bad design?

Despite being one of the most diverse countries in the history of the world, we design our textbooks for the average student and call it age-appropriate.

Think about the many dimensions of learning: memory, language, knowledge, reading, vocabulary, curiosity, perception, cognition, interest – these are just a few.

Each student has a jagged learning profile, and average hurts everyone, even our best and brightest.

Take a student who is gifted in science but is a below-average reader.

The science textbook is designed with the assumption that every kid reads at an average level.

So, this science textbook is a reading test, rather than an informational tool.

How do we customize the cockpit of education to nurture the potential of every student without spending any extra money?

The Air Force drew the blueprint. Ban the average in education.

We should demand that companies that sell materials in our classroom should design to the edges.

We will increase the performance of kids in classrooms today and dramatically expand our talent pool.

Use technology to create flexible learning environments that can nurture everyone’s learning potential.

We can fundamentally re-imagine the foundation of our institutions of opportunity, like our education system, to nurture the potential of every single individual.

WE can do this. WE know the formula and it is time we demand it.