To the Editor:
The idea of “universal design for learning,” originally focused on special education, seems to recognize that everybody learns differently because everybody is different, and that our one-size-fits-all general education system is failing to excite the many children who don’t fit (“‘Universal Design’ Concept Pushed for Education,” Oct. 31, 2007).
I have a proposal to ramp up children’s enthusiasm for school that could be implemented at almost no cost. This is simply to institute a system in which each student, from 1st grade on up, selects a personal “major” to reflect his or her current interest or enthusiasm.
Many assignments—general writing, reading, researching, art, history, geography, presentation, or discussion—would then require coverage of some aspect of that major. In this way, children would be engaged with their subject matter and happy to study or defend their choice.
A major could be any topic, from Britney Spears to ice hockey, worms, basketball, horses, or any of the myriad interests of children that adults cannot imagine. Provision would be made for declaring a new major at not less than two-week intervals in the early grades, with longer intervals for older children. This system could continue through high school.
Assignments could be framed to cover topics in ways that would not increase work for the teacher and might even provide more interest in grading.
I would be interested to know what experienced teachers or others who may have tried a similar idea have to say about such efforts to increase the flexibility of school assignments.
Eau Claire, Mich.
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as When Flexibility Means That ‘Majors’ Start in 1st Grade