Vulnerability, Education Reform, and Universal Design for Learning

i have recently completed an internship with the Department of Defense Education Activity. As a precaution, this post is my opinion alone and does not necessarily reflect that of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Defense Education Activity.    

Recently, I watched some videos of TED talks given by vulnerability and researcher Brene Brown. Dr. Brown refers to vulnerability not necessarily as a weakness, but as a source of courage.

Vulnerability utilizes very different mechanisms than other responses. It is perhaps because vulnerability involves confronting our fears and differences. Not being able to deal with vulnerability and shame in appropriate ways can be unhealthy. On the other hand, awareness of vulnerabilities and shame can be quite helpful (Brown, 2010, 2012), downloaded from, October 13, 2014).

Education reform is often driven by fear. There is usually a sense that students are somehow not performing up to par in the current system and, thus, the system must be reformed. The reform is often categorical instead of looking at individual students.

Despite its seeming connection to education reform, Universal Design for Learning is concerned with individual learners as well as systematic issues. This more individualized approach may not necessarily provide quite an easy fit for certain education reform efforts, especially with regards to standardization.

Universal Design for Learning does involve emphasis on standards to the extent that students are to get to standards utilizing various ways of knowing / learning to achieve the standard. It is oppositional to certain kinds of standardization, however, in that there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to getting students to a place where they meet the standard.

Vulnerability impacts Universal Design for Learning in two ways. First, teachers and administrators need to be able to utilize flexibility if they are to use UDL to be most impactful. Secondly, students need to be able to be aware of their strengths and vulnerabilities in learning. Students need to have cultures that value various ways of learning (e.g. the school is aware of Multiple Intelligences, plans its lessons accordingly, and educates students on Multiple Intelligences, Gardner, 1991) and to have awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. Because students may have various ways to learn, and because student needs may vary from school to school and even within schools, it is important to not interfere with instruction as long as students are, in fact, meeting high standards.


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