An IEP for everyone

An IEP for everyone

In a documentary about creativity, I would be remiss if I did not discuss individualized approaches in education. Creativity is as diverse and unique as are people. It’s a wonder and a shame then that mainstream schooling is served in a one-size-fits-all framework, as this post will go on to elaborate.

.     The Ontario Curriculum (or any mandated curriculum, for that matter) is a prescription of what to learn and when (in what year) it is to be learned. It is written in terms of expectations and outcomes. There is only one set of curricula: one for each subject and grade. There is however a provision made for those students who can’t cognitively execute the said curriculum as such—these students, once given proper recommendation by a specialist, are put on what’s called an Individual Education Plan, or IEP for short. The IEP modifies and/or accommodates the curriculum for students so that they can “handle it.” But there is no IEP though for those who just don’t want to handle it, which from anecdotal experience as a classroom teacher, I can say is a fair number. School is a premeditated political exercise imposed upon a group of stakeholders (i.e., students) who are traditionally left out of what should be a democratic decision of what and when to learn. Teachers can ask for student input during class, sure—but that input is the furthest reduction of decision-making available. Freire (1990) writes,
     For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge .    .    .      emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing,       .      hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. (p. 72)
Looking back on my education—that is, the entirety of what I learned and came to know and understand—I would testify (and it’s no surprise) that I truly learned that which I cared about: the arts, the environment, the natural world, social smarts. I was also taught a great many other topics and subjects because “they” said so, but I cannot honestly recall these things enough to be articulate and make sense . . . so I have to conclude that I really did not actually learn these things. How much more could I have learned along the vein of that which excited me? that was inherently motivating? that inspired me? How much further ahead could I be today had I had a customized, individualized education?! In fact, I did have an IEP for many years as a child, but sadly never once did it allow for more of that which lit me up. I can’t help but wonder, how much of my time was wasted??? Ricci (2012) describes: “A child, like an adult, learns most and learns best when he or she learns according to his or her will. Following her own will leads to the development of her ‘willed curriculum,’ her entirely personal, customized education experience” (p. 1). I know this is true; I shudder and cringe at the squandered opportunity. . . personal and collective.
.    This one-size-fits-all approach is becoming evermore peculiar-looking in today’s reality. Never have standardization and homogenization seemed so antiquated as in our present era of customization. The advent of Web 2.0 (i.e., participatory) technologies in particular within the past decade has allowed the average person to interact with web applications, spawning social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and YouTube (to name but a few) and allowing people to tailor their web experience (and I might say, lived experience) to their personal interests, tastes, and aptitudes. Similarly, tech gadgets such as Smartphones are unquestionably designed to be customizable to whatever the user wants; they start as a standard skeleton with the intention of being altered and added on to until they are as unique as the user himself/herself. The ability to adapt a framework to individual preference provides an element of novelty and caters to the malleable morphing nature of personal interest. Certainly when clients come to me with an idea for a painting commission, they are looking for something unique, something from their (or my) imagination that isn’t available to the general public—they want what is one of a kind. Standardization is not always (perhaps even seldom) desirable. Imagine what the freedom of a customizable education might mean—to individuals, and to humankind as a whole! The argument for standardization perpetuated in education is misinformed and out of touch with present-day trends. Education must move from one-size-fits-all to one of a kind.
.    In the video below (part of my Director’s Commentary video series, related to the Raising Creativity documentary project), I speak on this subject with reference to a drink advertisement I happened upon. I found it bemusing that something as unimportant as beverage mix is marketed with customization in mind, yet something as critical as education is not.



Freire, P. (1990). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Raising Creativity. (2013, July 31). One-size-fits-all education ( vlog).
.      Retrieved July 31, 2013, from
Ricci, C. (2012). The willed curriculum, unschooling, and self-direction: What do love, trust,
       respect, care, and compassion have to do with learning? Toronto, Canada: Ricci Publishing.

Posted by Rebecca Zak

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