Individualized Education Could Lead to Fewer Prison Costs

By Lynn Stoddard 

What would happen to prisons, if we developed a public education system that has as its main goal and purpose: To help every child, from kindergarten on, aspire and work to become a contributor (not a burden) to society. In Utah it costs $186,013,962 annually to house 6,338 prisoners. By reducing this amount we could spend more for public education.

 At the present time, a large percentage of prison inmates are drop outs from a school system that does not serve their needs. Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard maintains that public schools cater to those who are talented in verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences to the exclusion of those who are naturally bright in seven other ways. The “Common Core State Curriculum” is a good example.

Teachers are required to make students common in verbal/linguistic and math intelligences. This practice makes at least two thirds of students feel stupid or inferior. Many leave a school system that does not address their individual needs – or they endure it and stagnate. What has happened to the Utah eighth grader who composed a piece for full orchestra -- brass, percussion, woodwinds and strings – a piece so good it was chosen to be played in the State Music Educators Conference? Was his gift nurtured in school thereafter?

No, he was required to take algebra and other higher math subjects, which he would never use. He could have been working, with the right kind of support in school, to become a modern-day Beethoven or Mozart. Will this amazing young man and others die with their music still in them just because their schools require them to become common in verbal/linguistic and mathematical intelligences?  In Australia, some Aborigine tribes expect adolescent males to spend up to six months in the harsh “outback” without water and other provisions in a “rite of passage” to adulthood. If they survive and return from a land infested with poisonous snakes, blistering temperatures and other threats to life, they are admitted back to the tribe as adults ready to be contributing members.

Aborigine children grow up with “walkabout” on their minds. Can you imagine what would happen to our jails, if students grew up aspiring and working to be contributing members of society? As a rite of passage to the adult world, each student could be asked to keep a portfolio or other record and show their journey through courses taken, internships, essays written, interviews, service projects, talents demonstrated, books studied, and show a detailed plan for being a contributor to society. For graduation, each student would give a “valedictorian” presentation to a small group of parents, relatives, neighbors, invited classmates, school board members and administrators. What would we need to do to have a school system that meets the needs of all students? 

Unfortunately, many state leaders have a mental fixation on making students “common” in math and reading. We should prod policyholders into asking teachers to foster student curiosity and creativity. This would open the door to teaching fully for student differences and individuality. Those who are naturally talented in other ways besides verbal/linguistic and mathematical would have a chance to shine. If teachers and parents were asked to help students aspire and work to be contributors as their rite of passage to adulthood, it would open a flood of creativity to do it.  We would then begin to meet the diverse needs of all students – no more bullying or drop outs. 

Eventually, we could phase out our jails, or greatly reduce them in size and transfer the savings to education.       

Lynn Stoddard served as a teacher and elementary school principal for 36 years before retiring to write about “Educating for Human Greatness,” a different concept of public education. He can be reached at

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