Every so often we are reminded that we are a nation of dimwits. Most recently a study showed that American school children are left in the dust by their peers in Shanghai.
Give out the math problems and American kids are flummoxed, while their Asian counterparts are happily computing. America! America! Your promise is lost.
Rubbish. Somebody much smarter than me observed, “It ain’t where you start, it’s where you finish.” The results there tell a very different tale. Americans are still the most productive and innovative people in the world and show little sign of losing that lead. What is confusing is not what Americans know but when they know it. Americans come to knowledge later.
One of my sons teaches at a private school in Seoul. There the kids go to the regular school and then they go to the private school for further instruction. The prize is a test score that gets you into university. My son’s students speak American English with the idioms and argot of your children. Try to imagine your son or daughter capable of speaking Korean so naturally that you‘d think, at first hearing, hey, she’s from Seoul.
Korean parents are prepared to sacrifice so that their sons and daughters can do this and advance mathematics and master science at advanced levels. Once in university, however, the massive lead evaporates and it’s fair to say that Korean students, like their American counterparts, are essentially on par.
Not only is this a matter of when, it’s also a matter of what. At least it used to be. This is where we should be worried about. What are we educating young people for? American education places, in my opinion, far too much emphasis on cramming facts into heads and far too little upon using those facts to draw conclusions, to invent, to improve. Florida’s education system is focused on test scores, which measure facts crammed in, not the ability to think.
It wasn’t always so. American’s schools used to be designed to crank out fully-fledged citizens and to that end critical thinking was a key element. It is the critical thinkers who invent, who design, who create and that has always been America’s great strength. The Chinese manufacture a lot of things, but the ideas still come from the United States where the premium is not conformity but independence of thought. When Gadsden County gets additional money for its schools based upon its students’ abilities to draw inferences and reach conclusions, based upon fact, we’ll be on the right track.
If you could test for problem-solving skills, for drawing conclusions based upon information provided, I suspect Americans would do very well, might be world-beaters. It is no accident that the USA has so many Nobel prizes. iPhones are developed, designed and marketed here, but manufactured in China. We educate for thought, which produces iPads. Yet we seem determined to educate like China.
I have a sticker on my car bumper that says, “Critical Thinking — America’s other national deficit.” I’m afraid it’s so.