Sunday, October 18, 2009

Education in America

The newspaper reported today that Obama wants to extend the school day to help students become more competitive with students in Asia. As the parent of a first grader who already feels he spends too much time in school I don't like the sound of that.

For one thing, this is apparently all based off of standardized test scores. If we want American children to be competitive we don't accomplish that by teaching them to pass rote tests. That accomplishes nothing. We don't produce the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Donald Trump by making sure they all know the same facts and skills as every other kid in the world.

If we're trying to produce a generation of regurgitative drones we've already lost the game. India and China can out-produce us there any day. What America needs to stay on top is innovative creators. I'm afraid Obama's vision for American education is little more than a more PC version of the ads--you know, the ones where kids relate dreams such as "I want to claw my way to middle management," or "I want to have my redundant skills outsourced to India", or other stuff like that.

We don't need kids who can pass tests. We need kids who can dream up the future and then go get it. You don't accomplish that with milquetoast visions of homogeneous classrooms where everyone is made to feel good about themselves whether they actually deliver the goods or not, or where the brighter students are forced to slow down to accommodate the slower learners so they won't feel bad.

No, we need schools that teach kids that you achieve through hard work, perseverance, and by taking risks, and that if Johnny feels bad because he didn't do as well you should see if you can't help him do better next time, but ultimately it's his own responsibility.

The students need to learn that, mind you, not the teachers. The teachers should be just as concerned about Johnny as they are about Jenny the bold, outgoing, future entrepreneur. We should give teachers the tools, support, and respect to teach every kid at their own level. But they should not feel obligated to knock Jenny down a few notches by teaching her that getting ahead is somehow wrong.

Heaven knows Jenny will get a hard enough time from the other kids who are not as motivated. I saw that again and again growing up. The average kids would single out and pick on the high achievers and try to embarrass them into coming down to their level rather than just studying harder themselves. Kids can be mean that way. We don't need the teachers doing that too.

No, if other countries are starting to beat America it's not because their students can pass standardized tests better. It's because somewhere along the line they're instilling their children with confidence, creativity, and drive. Those matter more than whether a child can quote from memory the Pythagorean Theorem. Someone with confidence, creativity and drive will soon be able to hire someone else to remember that for them.

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