Quick!

Think of something complicated that all of the competent adults in your life are equally good at.

Having trouble?

Consider the following possibilities.

- Parallel parking
- Reading maps
- Folding maps
- Making risotto
- Growing tomatoes from seed
- Doing laundry
- Consoling friends

So what would your life’s dashboard look like?

Is your goal for every adult in your life to master each of these skills? Is it OK for the adults in your life to attain some familiarity with each and to improve throughout their lifetime? Or must the dashboard be solid blue?

Additional question: How would you behave differently if life’s dashboard were available on your mobile device or desktop computer?

—

Much of the rhetoric at the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference this past week was based on *individualization. *The mantra here is alluring.

We have been treating time as fixed and mastery as variable. We need to flip that so that everyone attains mastery and the time they take to do it is variable.

This was a much retweeted component of Sal Khan’s keynote address (see it at 12:56 in this video).

Instead of holding fixed how long you have to learn something and the variable is how well you learn it, do it the other way around. What’s fixed is every student should learn; we should all get to 100%, or 99% on basic exponents before moving on to the negative. And the variable should be how long we have to learn it and when we learn it.

The larger idea of which this is a part is *competency-based education.*

Perhaps the principle here is too broad for meaningful debate, but I do think the assumption is worth questioning. My Life’s Dashboard thinking is one way of doing that.

Another would be to state some explicit areas for concern. One is equity. We can imagine students cycling endlessly through arithmetic content deemed foundational, and never being given access to (say) algebra.

Another area for concern is the power that is given to those who create the knowledge map. A careful look at the KA knowledge map, for instance, reveals that the prerequisite knowledge for *adding decimals* consists of addition and subtraction skills together with additive whole number and negative number relationships.

No knowledge of fractions is necessary; no knowledge of the multiplication and division relationships underlying place value, decimals and fractions is necessary.

These assumptions about how people learn decimals are flawed, and they are known to be flawed. But powerful people are creating flawed knowledge maps, which then form the basis of the appealing *fixed mastery, flexible time* meme.

I have written multiple times about Cathy Fosnot‘s idea of the landscape of learning. This is a useful metaphor that conflicts in some important ways with Khan Academy’s more linear knowledge map metaphor (and at 9:21 in the video).

So I get how appealing this flexible time/fixed mastery thing is. I understand its allure. And the idea that we can summarize this information for teachers in a tidy array? Also appealing.

But it just isn’t that simple.