About nine years ago, I read Thomas Friedman’s iconic book The World Is Flat 3.0, an updated edition of The World Is Flat. Although, I do not have my original annotated copy (I like to take notes in books – you never know when you will blog about them), one particular argument from Friedman has always remained in my frontal lobe – the need for curiosity in our students.
Segue to today where I read a tweet from EdNC.org referencing May 24th post on Valerie Strauss’s blog for The Washington Post, called The Answer Sheet. The post was entitled “Can we please stop holding up China’s schools as a model for the U.S.? It’s ridiculous” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/24/can-we-please-stop-holding-up-chinas-schools-as-a-model-for-the-u-s-its-ridiculous/). It’s very much worth the read.
In a nation where we tend to compare our students’ test scores with our counterparts in the world, it is sobering to think that we do not lead the world in student scores. That information can fuel fault-finding and then give reason to reform or even “re-form” our schools.
In 2013 a book was released by Amanda Ripley, a journalist who wrote for Time and The Atlantic, called The Smartest Kids in the World. She followed three students from the states who traveled to different countries to enter different education systems, notably South Korea, Finland, and Poland.
This is not the first time I have encountered Amanda Ripley’s writing. She wrote that now famous cover story for Time Magazine on then Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in 2008 called “How To Fix America’s Schools”. The cover picture is somewhat famous for it shows Rhee with a broom as if she is sweeping the D.C. schools clean.
Rhee did bring in sweeping reforms along with pink slips for almost every person she encountered who did not fit her profile of success. Ripley’s article presented Rhee as a pseudo-savior for school reform. It was almost hero worship.
But Rhee failed. She not only failed; she failed miserably. There are still unresolved allegations of test tampering. Any “gains” that the D.C. schools had under Rhee have always been cast in doubt.
Needless to say Rhee went on as a face for charter school growth and privatization after her tumultuous tenure as D.C. Chancellor. Furthermore, it made me think that Ripley’s angle on what is god for public education may not actually be correct. Therefore, I read The Smartest Kids in the World with personal and professional bias.
And Ripley did nothing to change that bias. In an attempt to show that poverty is not as big an obstacle in student achievement, I sensed that what Ripley’s book really showed was that schools around the world are simply the same in one very basic respect – they are reflections of the society and culture that they are set in. In actuality, Ripley’s book tried to teach me something that I think we as Americans already knew – or used to know.
While I respect Ripley’s attempt to give clarity on the need to reform schools, I think what she did was lend lucidity on our need to recapture some of the things we used to do in education.
Students in South Korea work extremely hard, but their obsession for testing and ranking places students on a track that they must travel practically the rest of their lives. Poland’s schools shows a resiliency of a people who have seen much in the last 80 years and how all can benefit from a good education. Finland shows what can happen when teachers are revered as professionals and have more control over pedagogy and kids are allowed to play and experiment.
Remember when testing was not the beast it is today with the advent of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top? Remember when the focus of federal and state governments was to adequately fund public schools? Remember when teachers were more regarded as professionals rather than scapegoats by politicians and reformers?
I do. And that was when we as Americans did not compare ourselves with other countries to gain a sense of ourselves. Certainly we can relate to other countries in looking at the obstacles that keep us from becoming greater, but to always compare ourselves to other countries will always leave us unsatisfied.
Reading that post on China from The Answer Sheet reminded me that looking to others to not only identify our “problems” in schooling but also on how to “solve” them (at least have the appearance of solving) is not the authentic way to get better.
Rather we should compare ourselves to what we want to become and go from there. That’s because growth is usually an inside job. What I mean is that we must change from the inside out – not the outside in. And we must regain more than re-form. In short, we need our kids to be curious again.
Now back to Friedman. In his book (version 3.0) he talks about the need for curiosity. Chapter 7 says that the CQ (curiosity quotient) + PQ (Passion Quotient) is more important than the IQ (Intelligence Quotient). He specifically states, “Nobody works harder than a curious kid.”
We need to not test students so dang much. We need to prioritize the learning environment and the process and we need to let teachers facilitate learning, not administer assessments.
And let kids be curious and give them the time to be curious. Curiosity leads to personal investment in learning and independence. Curiosity leads to innovation and problem solving.
Bubbling in answers to tests that teachers have no control over making or grading so that we can measure our results against other countries and constantly be disappointed does not make for a great education system.
It’s the hallmark of a country that is losing what it used to have and can have again.