Pages Navigation Menu

Shoes That Don’t Fit by Mariaemma Willis, M.S.

shoes_150pxWould you force your child to wear shoes that don’t fit? Then why force an education that doesn’t fit!

That is what’s happening to hundreds of thousands of school children every day. And those in private schools or homeschooling programs are not automatically better off. As long as children are forced to use a traditional textbook/workbook curriculum without any concern for their learning styles, they might as well be wearing shoes that are too tight, or so loose that they trip over them.

An education that doesn’t fit is as painful, or perhaps even more painful, than ill-fitting shoes—after all, an ill-fitting education can scar a child for life.

But wait… the traditional school system has been in place for a pretty long time, and most people come through it just fine, don’t they?

Do they? Did you know that most adults are held back from what they could be doing or would love to do because of their school experiences? Did you know that being labeled slow, lazy, learning disabled, dyslexic, ADD, or even average or gifted stays with you forever, and affects what you believe about yourself and your abilities? Did you know that people in their forties, fifties, and sixties, no matter what they’ve accomplished, are still controlled by messages they received in school?

I’m thinking of a woman who didn’t think she could advance in her business because in school she got the message that she wasn’t very capable. What was the problem in school? She kept tapping her foot and wiggling in her chair because she is kinesthetic and needs to move to learn. Another adult comes to mind who spent years in a career she disliked because she didn’t think she was smart enough to do what she really wanted to do—teach. Others are held back because they are not great spellers, or reading is not a strength, or memorizing is difficult for them.

So what? These things really have nothing to do with success!

The most powerful determiner of success is the belief that you are capable and can succeed. Yet, for thirteen of the most formative years of our children’s lives we emphasize mistakes, failures, and a narrow definition of what it means to be “smart.” These children grow up to be adults who settle for less.

Studies done several years ago revealed that 95% of kindergartners feel good about themselves and are eager to learn, and fewer than 2% of seniors in high school feel good about themselves. Pedro Garcia, then superintendent of the Corona-Norco Unified School District, commented on these results: “What happens to children between the ages of 5 and 18 that they lose that creative, inquisitive spirit… Children need to feel safe… We need to create a safe home and a safe classroom for them… Children need to be frequently validated, encouraged, supported… They need to know they have talents and abilities they have not yet discovered. Above all, they need to know they can be successful…”

Far too many pay a very high price in our one-size-fits-all education and testing system. Yet there is a very simple answer and the powers to be are not listening. Children learn differently—what works for some does not work for others. This is not rocket science! How long will it be before educators recognize this simple truth and act on it?

About 14 years ago a law was enacted called the No Child Left Behind Act. Yet thousands and thousands of children have been left behind, along with countless adults who are not able to reverse the damage done to them as students. As long as we force all kids to start reading at 4 or 5 years old, force everyone to use textbooks and workbooks, and force all students to learn and be tested in the same way, No Child Left Behind will never come to be.

Last month a new law was enacted that replaces the No Child Left Behind Act—it is the Every Child Succeeds Act. Its intent is to “turn the page on the failed status quo” and to “deliver children an excellent education” according to Representative John Kline, Minnesota. National Education Association President, Lily Eskelsen Garcia said, “For the first time since No Child Left Behind…, ESSA empowers educators as trusted professionals to make decisions while keeping the focus on students most in need.

So how can we make sure that Every Child Succeeds? By:

  1. Respecting developmental timetables—realize that kids are ready for concepts at different ages, not when the system says they must be!
  2. Providing various ways for kids to learn and do assignments, such as games, audiobooks, art supplies, building activities, scrapbooks, experiments, demonstrations, etc.
  3. Instead of using destructive labels, looking at learning styles. For example, Picture and Hands-on learners are often labeled dyslexic; Inventing and/or Thinking/Creating learners most often end up being labeled ADD.

The best teachers have figured out how to do this even with all the constraints put on them. We hope that the new Every Child Succeeds Act will truly make it easier for all teachers to meet the needs of individual students.

We encourage parents to be in communication with your children’s teachers. Work together to meet your children’s learning needs. Be a Success Coach for the children in your life!


Mariaemma_150wx200MARIAEMMA WILLIS, M.S., is co-author of Discover Your Child’s Learning Style & Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten. She is co-founder of—providing LearningSuccess training for parents and teachers, and—offering customized programs for homeschool/independent study. You can email her at m @