Procrustean Beds and Tutors

There’s a Greek myth that describes a son of Poseidon named Procrustes. He had an iron bed with the imprint of what he considered to be the “proper man.” Rather grimly, Procrustes would capture wavering travelers and force them to conform to that imprint. If they were too short, he would stretch them until they filled it out. If too large—well, you get the picture.

Though that metal bed foreshadowed something like medieval torture devices, the Procrustean bed is present today in abstract terms, and we know this. For instance, parents insist that their children choose their own extracurricular activities because it’d be wrong to impose a parent’s favorite sport on an unwilling child. We fear that society’s constraints will stamp out the individual creativity and sense of wonder in our children. As a teacher who was instructed to “teach to the middle,” the myth of Procrustes weighed heavily on me. Though we had a rich curriculum, it was linear and applied the same criteria to students of vastly different ways of acquiring knowledge.

Of course, the metaphor unwittingly assumes that students are akin to clay, i.e., an undifferentiated mass.

Another example, the German word meaning “education” also means “formation” as a potter does clay (German: Bildung). Of course, the metaphor unwittingly assumes that students are akin to clay, i.e., an undifferentiated mass. It’s passive and formed to the desires of the teacher who’s, again, teaching to the middle. 

Many wonderful educators have found ways to avoid such a dismal (and grisly, in the case of Procrustes) set of approaches. But it’s not exactly been done on the eLearning front. We still find warm beds of iron that may or may not fit the form of our child. To avoid educational torture, so to speak, we at Learnatric are harnessing the power of machine learning, micro-assessors, and more to educate students according to their individual needs. Our analogy is not a wicked son of Poseidon or a potter forming undifferentiated clay. We are translating the sharp eyes and mind of a masterful tutor into technology so that children focus on learning exactly how and what they need in order to succeed.

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