The Reflective Educator

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Standardization is impossible

Stop light
(Image credit: photoburst)


Stop lights are a rule. They are a standard system used worldwide as a solution to the problem of people getting into accidents at intersections.

However, what most people don’t know (unless you have travelled a lot, or lived abroad) is that different cultures treat stop lights differently, particularly for pedestrians. In New York City, the red light means "walk across unless someone is driving through right now" on a cross town street, and "don’t walk" on a uptown/downtown street. In Vancouver, the red light means "be careful crossing the street" if it is a quiet street, and "don’t cross" (unless you are a rebel) for a busy street. In London, a red light means "stay the hell away from the road" because cars will run you down if you try and cross, but a crosswalk means, "expect traffic to slam on their brakes to let you cross". In Bangkok, you don’t cross at intersections, you use the overhead walkways. In Hamburg, the red light means, do not cross under any circumstances, even if you can’t see traffic in either direction for miles. In Rio de Janeiro, at night time, the red light means, honk and drive on through, as no one wants to stop in case they are carjacked (anyone who walks around Rio at night time is crazy).

The point is, this seemingly universal symbol still has a local meaning, even though effort has been made to adopt the same system all over the world. Rules are culturally situated.

Our society’s push to standardize education needs to recognize that even in a standardized system, there will be local variance. Schools, just like municipalities adopting traffic lights, need to work the external system into their local framework, and the expectation that every school should come up with the same solution is flawed. In fact, some schools may have very different approaches to applying the standardized framework to their local community.

Some municipalities have nearly abandoned the traffic light as a form of managing traffic at intersections. 

Round about


What is the parallel to the round-about in education? Is this completely different than standardization? Should our system have the flexibility to allow more schools to choose different solutions to education?