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Beyond Average

In the late 1940's the US Air Force had a problem: pilots couldn't control their planes. At it's worst point, 17 pilots crashed in one day alone.

At first, the pilots were blamed. Maybe this was human error? But after extensive testing they couldn't trace the problem to human error or mechanical error. They began looking at the plane design, specifically at cockpit design. The first cockpits were designed by the Army in 1926. Engineers had gathered the measurements of hundreds of pilots and used the data to standardize the dimensions of the cockpit. From the size and shape of the seat, to distance from the pedals, to stick and height of windshield, all was designed according to the average measurements of a 1926 pilot.

The 1940's engineers began to wonder, have pilots gotten bigger since 1926? The Air Force measured more than 4,000 pilots on 140 dimensions of their body, even down to their thumb size. Then they averaged those pilots and found that the 1926 cockpit seemed to be designed just right for the average 1940 pilot. So what was happening?

As it turns out, when they compared the average data to each individual pilot, they learned that there is no such thing as average. You would think that by gathering the measurements of 4000 pilots that most of the pilots would fall into the average range. But the actual number who fit the average?


What they learned was by designing the cockpit to fit the average, you effectively have designed something that fits no one. There is no such thing as average.

This revelation led to making cockpits adjustable to the pilots. Immediately the number of crashes dropped. This is the reason we have adjustable seats in our cars.*

When I was in school, I appeared to be the ideal fit for the education system. I did what I was told, and was perfectly happy to jump through the hoops set out for me. I was the 4.0 student. There was only one problem: I wasn't actually learning the things the test scores would lead you to believe that I knew. I used to joke that my spiritual gift might be multiple choice and short answer tests. I can pass any test if you give me a minute to study. In the third grade I learned how to play the system game. How to reword a question to appear to know the answer. How to look up the bold words in the glossary in order to fill in the worksheet. How to memorize the worksheet to pass the test.

But I had a secret. I was terrified of anyone finding out that I was a fraud, finding out that I hadn't actually learned most of what I was in school to learn. That all I really knew was how to cheat the system.

One of the many problems with this was that pretty early on in my schooling, I started believing that my value came from the scores I could produce. That my value was based on something external.

In 7th grade, I got my first and only C on an assignment. I was absolutely sick about it. Afraid to go home. Ashamed. Embarrassed. I tried to hold it together but as soon as mom asked what was wrong, the tears came. "Dad's going to kill me," I sobbed dramatically to my mom. Never mind that my dad is not violent, never mind that he didn't track my assignments, never mind that my parents NEVER pressured me, or even vocalized, that A's were their expectation. But the system had slowly been teaching me that my value came from the score. That my teachers only valued me if I was perfect. My mom quickly disavowed me of these notions. "What gave you the impression that we cared that you got straight A's?" I still felt bad about that C, I refused to let it happen again.

School taught me I could be valued, even if I didn't feel valuable. I could get the good grade. I could be perfect, or at least appear that way. I worked hard to hide that I was a fraud. My worth was completely tied up in my grade. In the number assigned to me.

Apparently this is a common phenomenon. The American Psychological Association says that nearly half of Ivy league college students report feelings of hopelessness and a third are so depressed they report it being difficult to function. These are 'perfect' kids becoming consumed by the system. The goal is not learning, but rather reaching perfection on paper.

When I became a teacher, I saw the other side of this coin. The kids who see themselves as the labels that we've given them. The score that tells them they are bad at reading, the red/green/yellow behavior card that tells them they are the 'bad' kid in class, that they are crap at math or science. That they are less valuable because they don't fit the 'average'.

All of this ranking and sorting based on what? AVERAGE.

It's fascinating to me that the average describes exactly no one, and yet this is the ideal that we tell kids they should measure up to. The reality is quite different. Not one of us is average. This is by design. We are unique in the whole of history from our physical development, to our gifts, our passions, our world views. We have varied personal histories and family dynamics, and grew up in different parts of the country and world.

And yet, we have created a system of education that revolves around the idea of average, of standardization with the goal of sameness.

Do you see the problem here?

We are image bearers, intrinsically valuable and worthy because of our differences. But we are trying to exist in a system that tells us we are valuable only if an external measure tells us we are.

These first few of school we call 'detox' week. Our goal is to help kids shed the labels that are based on average and help them recognize their intrinsic value as unique image bearers. We work to help your children see that they are uniquely created, uniquely gifted, and made with purpose and intention. We help them see that the variety of gifts in our community are important, that actually it is by design that we don't all have the same purpose. That we are part of a body with many parts. We help them learn to 'fail-forward.'

We work to create a culture that cultivates this sense of rightness-from-within. We build a learner profile to help us understand who your children are. We follow these days with Detox Week, Identity Day, Ice Blocking, and a Who We Are Inquiry block. The purpose is to help students appreciate who they are as identity bearers. We celebrate it. As students value themselves as individuals, we work to build community by helping students see the value that others have in their uniqueness.

You may have looked at our calendar and wondered at some of the strange events you saw coming up. Learner Profiles, Detox week, Identity Day, Ice Blocking. Everything we do in the first few weeks of school is designed to help your kids see who they are, and to work together and celebrate each other in community. It is on this foundation that we are able to build. Next Friday, we'll wrap up Detox week with a half day Identity Day. This is a celebration of who we are as individuals. We invite all of you to come celebrate with us. You'll get an invitation and schedule next week. Following Identity Day, we'll build community by playing together. Sledding down hills in the sunshine on blocks of ice. (Some dads may win Dad-of-the-year by becoming human sleds). This is not a 'normal' week of academics, but it is decidedly the most important week of the year.

Last week, Anastasis teachers came together for work week. During the week, we took turns describing Anastasis from our own vantage point. And while there was quite a bit of overlap, here is the core of Anastasis from my perspective:

At Anastasis we believe that we have a moral imperative to make learning and school meaningfully better for kids by honoring the unique identity of each of them. We have built a legacy of empowering kids to be advocates of their own learning. When you come to Anastasis, you are partnering with us to extend and amplify this vision. We commit to be identity-honoring.

Welcome back to school!

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