Then and Now -- Education
One of our biggest failings as a country today is in the field of education. There is a widely held misconception that we have fallen from a position of leadership, when in fact we have never been there. Many in this country have continued to be shocked since national comparisons began decades ago and the US has never performed to a degree commensurate with its global standing in other fields.
I recently read an article in the Smithsonian Magazine while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. It was all about how little Iceland is now outscoring every other country in the world in things like reading, math, and science. It turns out Iceland takes a very different approach toward educating its children. They don’t start school until they are 7. They have very few standardized tests. Their school days are punctuated with a lot of outdoor play time. But perhaps most significantly, their teachers are drawn from the top 10% of college graduates. A very different model from the the approach taken in the US where we push kids to learn early, we test them weekly, we limit non-academic time, and our top grads become doctors and lawyers. And while you might think Iceland has a homogeneous population, it is now the home to many immigrants who must first learn a new language and then a new culture.
Another recent article told of a failed attempt in Arizona to cure the education woes with an influx of technology. The idea that the latest and greatest electronics can somehow bridge the gap. I sometimes think the root of our current math woes was the introduction of the calculator, which made it no longer necessary for children to know basic math facts. Although technology can be a powerful extender, it can never be a substitute for basic instruction.
Just yesterday an article in the Washington Post reported the lowest scores EVER on the SAT test. This is since 1972 when reporting began. The cause is attributed to the increased diversity in the population. The question then becomes whether we are failing this diverse segment of the population or whether we need a new test. In any case, this news basically reaffirms that “No child left behind” was a colossal failure and we need a new approach.
If we are to reclaim our former position of preeminence in the world, we are going to have to figure out how to better educate those who will do it. And it must include those who don’t have the means to afford private education.