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ORIGINAL: YouTube

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid, ” says Joshua Katz in his fascinating TED talk called the “Toxic Culture of Education.”

Katz is an inspiring math teacher who has worked with students who fall in the bottom 25 percent in math. Those students are at risk of failing or dropping out, he says. They believe if they don’t go to college, they have no worth, which means their only alternatives are to be underemployed, find illegal work, or to abuse the social welfare system, he says.

“It doesn’t matter if a student is a gifted artist, a loving caretaker, talented musician, or poetic writer, those students are the fish being judged on how they climb trees because we say the end-all, be-all is college, ” Katz says. “Those students are marginalized by what I call a toxic culture of education.”

He points out that our educational system is too burdened by testing and accountability to effectively serve its students and free them up to really learn. He blames No Child Left Behind, standardized testing, common core, and for-profit private education companies trying to sell packaged “solutions.”

Katz says that policymakers ignore the fact that poverty, hunger and home environments are major contributors to student achievement and that the characteristics of students – their habits and values – are what really determine their success.

“If a student fails algebra, it’s usually not because of a cognitive problem, ” he says. We need to ask: How can we help our students be better learners?

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