Outliers are awesome too!

notstandardizedJust going to give warning right off the bat…I intend to talk about statistics. (Just in case someone is allergic) But, don’t worry it won’t be a bunch of dry numbers and formulas.  I want to focus on outliers. For those who aren’t familiar with statistics, an outlier is “a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.”  I know your eyes are glazing over but stick with me here.

When you look at the trend of a graph, they are the dots that aren’t on the line. Statisticians, because they are looking at raw data only, aren’t always sure why they don’t fit but they’ve created mathematical workarounds so conclusions can be made from the data with or without them.

If you’ve helped a kid with math homework, you’ve probably come across the terms mean, median, and mode. (It amazes me that these topics are being taught in elementary school, but I guess it’s good to get kids familiar with the concepts.) These things are called measures of central tendency and some of them are affected by outliers and some are not. (Quit snoring!) In some way, they each tell about the middle of the road.

Back to the outliers. In a data set of IQ test or standardized test scores for example, the outliers might be seen as geniuses, master test takers, crappy test takers, or learning disabled. Regardless, they are not considered normal or part of the crowd.  Unfortunately, judging people by performance on a written test only leaves out a lot of gifted and talented people. On the flip side, there are people who pass standardized tests with flying colors but do nothing to improve their own lives or the lives of others. I recently saw a list of character qualities not measured by tests and I started thinking about the amazing people in the past who would have fallen short according to today’s standardized testing.

Thomas Edison was once referred to by a teacher as “addled.” Alexander Graham Bell had crappy grades and didn’t really develop a love of learning until he spent a year with his grandfather. General Patton had trouble learning to read and write. George Bernard Shaw even wrote about his hatred of standardized schooling in A Treatise on Parents and Children.

These people would be considered outliers in today’s schools. And not in a good way. Yet imagine the world without their contributions. What I’m trying to get at here is that our children deserve more than to be treated as statistics. Although numbers are easy to quantify, they don’t show the full potential of a child. Standardized curricula and standardized testing are not doing any favors to our children. Too much emphasis is placed on standardization, grades, and scores.

Teachers are required to teach according to the Common Core standards whether that’s in the best interests of the children or not.  With the Common Core disease spreading, it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to reach anyone but the average student. They all know about the different learning styles but are given less freedom to implement appropriate plans.  (One of my reasons for homeschooling.)

The problem lies with the one-size-fits-all approach. Children are unique, ever-changing, not quantifiable. If we don’t come up with a better way, then we just might be robbing the world of its next Thomas Edison.  It’s time we start accepting and even celebrating the outliers.  Book knowledge, rote memorization, and good grades do not always equal success in life or encourage development of great character.  Weakness in those areas can not be equated with failure in life. So why do we base the school system and the success of our children on inaccurate measurements?

We’re not raising numbers, we’re raising children.  Wonderful, unique children (even if they are outliers) who have so much to offer…much more than anything you might see in a graph of standardized test scores.  It’s time for the outliers to show us what they’ve got.  Time for them to shine.  The world will be a better place because of it.

(P.S. For parents and kids struggling to understand statistics or practically any subject for that matter, I highly recommend Khan Academy.  It’s free and it’s awesome!  I’ve even used it on a college level.)

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