The Education System: “Now Climb That Tree”

5232012052424iwsmtBy Micah Russell — This cartoon has been making rounds on the internets recently. It’s hilarious, but also a powerful statement on the approach of the education system. It shows a variety of animals of different sizes, weights, and capabilities in a row. The proctor at the front then states that, to be fair, they will all be asked to take the same exam. “Now climb that tree.” The reason it’s so funny is because many of us have felt that way at one point or another (or maybe not, maybe some of us are the monkey). How can so many students feel that way? Where is the violent educational uprising?

Yes, to say that the education system needs reforming is an understatement. However, I don’t want to waste this blog discussing the flaws of the system. If you want a comprehensive view, check out Waiting for Superman. Rather, I want to emphasize a potential solution.

The answer comes to us from psychologist Charles Spearman. At the beginning of the 20th century, he had a theory of intelligence that he titled the “g factor”. The g (or general) factor was a measure of cognitive abilities across variables. Spearman argued that psychologists could gain a better perspective on an individual when they evaluated a wide array of intelligence rather than specific intelligence (such as that measured by an IQ test).

The education system may benefit from this model and find the strengths in their students by utilizing different assessments of intelligence and knowledge. Therefore, to relate it to our cartoon, beyond a climbing test, there may be a swimming test, an eating contest, a footrace, etc. Tommy may not be good at standardized tests, but he’s an amazing artist and can think abstractly. Jill has low test scores, but is able to form cohesive and convincing arguments. Bobby is struggling to stay awake in class, but he has a strong work ethic and is great with hands-on, practical application. Each of these students has a different intelligence that may go overlooked, depending on who’s looking.

So the real question becomes, how do we become advocates for our students? Until next time….

4 Responses to “The Education System: “Now Climb That Tree””

  1. 1 Allen Coggins March 1, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    How do you feel about common core education? Why are right wing conservatives fighting it? Do they feel that a belief in God will be lost if education is directed at broadening and enriching young minds? You can contact me at


  2. 2 Ron Schroll March 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    I am not a right wing conservative so I have no idea how they feel. However as a liberal living in the South I am in favor of anything that is designed to improve the quality of the education students receive. I think that southerners oppose common core because they just don’t want anyone telling them what to do. That’s fine but education of our children is too important to be left to elected officials with little or no background in education. Our kids are grown but I believe that my grand children would receive a better education if all schools had common standards to adhere to.


  3. 3 Heather March 22, 2018 at 4:04 am

    Hi I am trying to find the copyright holder of the cartoon Alexander Russo commented on in 2012 with a fish in a bowl elephants and other animals titled “The Education System: Now Climb that tree” Can anyone help?

    Liked by 3 people

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