As a teacher and a mom, education is one of my primary concerns. So the recent scores released by PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) were disheartening to me. I’m not terribly surprised. I’ve been watching the American school system become bogged down with bad ideas, from extending the school day, to piling on meaningless homework, to eliminating anything creative in the curriculum, and let’s not forget the massive failure of innovation and sense that is the No Child Left Behind act.
A Bloomberg article quoted that one of the advantages that better-performing countries had over the U.S. was that schools had more autonomy over their curriculum. It flies in the face of a national curriculum, which makes sense. It’s kind of like the government controlling how you run your own family. You’re better equipped to say what your family needs or doesn’t need, and schools should have the same advantage.
In my daughter’s school, the length of the day has been steadily increasing, as some subjects have become more disposable (Art, Spanish, Music) and still the scores have not been going up. What’s the answer to that? Increase the day some more. It’s like saying: Hey! This brand of manure hasn’t been growing my sunflowers. Know what I’m gonna do? Add more manure!
It’s a failure of imagination. No one has been able to come up with a decent idea to deal with the problem. And it’s also an indication of why the U.S. is behind in Science scores, because anyone with any kind of scientific training would know that when your hypothesis fails, you don’t keep adding minutes to the experiment. You begin again with a new idea.
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought a national curriculum was a good idea. I thought having across the board standards would eliminate the nonsense that is wealthy schools getting all the resources while inner-city schools get left in the dust. But clearly, the best thing is not a national curriculum, but distributing the education dollars appropriately. I also thought that smaller classes would be better, but that’s also proving to be wrong. Larger class sizes mean that teachers can be paid more, and higher-paid teachers is reportedly one of the reasons China’s educational system is number one.
So now that we have new information, let’s re-conceptualize our ideas about education. Longer days (more manure) isn’t cutting it. But a longer school year might help U.S. students catch up to everyone else.
Eliminating language classes in favor of other core subjects hasn’t helped. And what is the sense of eliminating languages when we know that the economy is now global? Speaking only one language is a huge disadvantage.
Innovation used to be a source of pride for the United States. Kitty Hawk, the Space Race. Think that can happen now that we’ve eliminated creative subjects like art from the curriculum and science is learned from a textbook rather than by having students theorize and experiment?
Giving schools the ability to control their own curriculum is going to be huge. Thematic learning where the math, science, social studies, reading, art, music, and language subjects were all about one thing works because each subject feeds on the others. The average person needs to hear something eight times before they remember it. So by integrating all the subjects, we’d maximize the ability of the students to master the material. Right now, with a different textbook for everything, it’s all disjointed. A longer day of scattershot learning is a giant waste of time and resources.
Now is the time to listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about, like Ken Robinson who describes how schools are killing creativity, or like Muhammad Yunus who prove that even old institutions and centuries-long ways of thinking can be successfully revamped. For Pete’s sake, let’s listen to a kid talk about what they need to grow.
What we’re doing clearly isn’t working. And I’m worried about the future of my children, and the future of all of us, if we’re led by dunces. Haven’t we had enough of that?