Nikhil Goyal is a self-proclaimed child of No Child Left Behind. That is, he is one of the generation of students whose educational experiences from elementary school through recent high school graduation was defined and structured through the lens of standardized testing and standardized curriculum. And he is not happy about that (nor should he be). His insightful book — One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School — is a powerful call for our country to rethink the ways schools are structured, and the way learning environments are established, from the most important constituency of all: the student.
Goyal wrote this book when he was just 17 years old. He conducted numerous interviews, did extensive research and considered his own educational experiences in New York to form a powerful screed on the ways that standardized learning is dulling the minds of too many students and sapping the creativity out of their lives. Luckily, he takes the next step, too, and proposed various ways that he thinks schools should (no, must) change in order to nurture the critical thinking skills and creative prowess of young people. Goyal’s book is full of voice, and passion, and frustration for the ways that the Bush presidency moved us in a direction of testing-first, and how the Obama administration has continued and built upon that theme.
If you, like me, feel as if the only voices we have been hearing are our own (educators, and maybe even some parents) and those of the government (local, national) and educational businesses (textbook companies, Gates), it is refreshing to get a glimpse of what a recent graduate is thinking. Refreshing, but saddening, too. Goyal might be in unique in his perseverance of his research and interviews, and in his ability to understand that his voice might lead to change (and his gift for writing), but you can’t come away from this book without thinking of those generations of NCLB/Race to the Top students and how the shifts in education have affected them.
I am sure educational policy wonks will point to One Size Does Not Fit All and say something like, “See? He learned to make arguments, was able to write and publish a book, and is now a speaker on the world stage. Our system works.” Gosh, though, I hope not. I hope, instead, they read Goyal’s book (they better read it!) and think, “Wow. Maybe we are sapping the creativity our of our educational system. What a miserable learning experience he had, and if he had that kind of public school experience, maybe many others are having it, too.”
I’m not holding my breath, though.
Peace (in the pages),
PS — here is Goyal giving a talk: