Arne Duncan and I have often held differing opinions when it comes to our children’s education. Considering that he use to run the school system where my seven-year-old attends school, I have years of experience of yelling back at my radio hoping that Duncan hears my cries. In December the results from another international test to gauge where the world’s children rank were released. The USA did not get an A+. Duncan bemoaned our results in math, science and language and pointed towards China as a threat to our intellectual dominance.
But I’m really not that worried about China.
No, I’m not happy that our kids had an average score. I’m not happy that we’re losing ground to other countries. What I really am worried about is that this news will fuel a new fervor to copy China’s method of educating our kids. And that’s the real bottom line isn’t it? How do we want to educate our children? What kind of children do we want to raise?
“Successful ones!” I hear you. But how do you define successful?
In China children spend all day in school drilling facts and perfecting test prep. Believe me, our kids are perfecting test prep here too. When my daughter came home from kindergarten with homework sheets that had bubbles on it, I nearly lost it. “Really? Are we already teaching them how to fill in standardized test bubbles?” And my daughter attends one of the best public schools in Chicago.
Of course some parents, like Amy Chua, are all for turning our schools into American Chinese schools chock full of rote and consequences. I’m thankful that the Wall Street Journal highlighted her highly offensive parenting style. Because it reveals the end of the path we have allowed our schools to start walking down. That is the true wake-up call. For all our desire to regain our global dominance, we have gutted our children’s education.
Gym? Cut for additional study time. Ditto for art, music and recess. All this despite the fact that music HELPS our children learn and appreciate math better. Research shows that children behave better when given a mid-day recess. The 30 minutes my daughter and her classmates get before school does not meet my standard for a real recess. Play allows children to engage in many things including their imagination, negotiation and of course fitness.
The reality is that while China and other countries may be beating us out on standardized tests, the USA is still winning the overall education game. The number of Chinese students coming to the USA for graduate education continues to climb. They come here for the superior educational experience in all fields, including education theory. The USA is winning in terms of innovation and ideas. We may not be making a lot of widgets in this country, but we are overflowing with ideas on what to make, design and invent. I am though in favor of extending the school day, but not to cram in more studying at the expense of their imagination and well-being.
Yes, we have a lot of work cut out for us here in terms of our education system. Even from my daughter’s very privileged school I can see it. But we aren’t going to rise in the rankings by just teaching our children Chinese or by increasing their access to test prep. Rather we will, as a country, increase our scientific literacy and achievement by increasing access to early childhood education, making the teaching profession one where dedicated people will flock, increasing the number of science labs and ensuring that every single school has a library. A recent demonstration at Whittier elementary school revealed that almost 200 Chicago Public Schools do not have a library. How can we ever believe we will get our children to learn more and achieve more if they do not have access to a school library?
There are many things we need to do to get our education system in working order. Worrying about China isn’t one of them.