In my EDL 680 course, which is a Seminar for Personalized Learning and Leading Through Technology, we are reading Yong Zhao's "Catching Up or Leading the Way." While only on chapter four, I am seeing a new perspective on how the educational system in the US has evolved over the years.
Before diving in too deep, I do want to share my personal excitement that the author is now a professor at Michigan State (though I did not attend MSU, being a Michigander it is nice to read his work) and has kids in Okemos Public Schools, a great public school system in Ingham County.
As a history major, it is true that history repeats itself. What is interesting to read in Zhao's book is the history of educational reform in the US and some other reforms in general. Much of what has transpired over the years has happened due to fear and politics, sometimes both together and sometime exclusive of each other. It was interesting to read how then US Senator John F. Kennedy used the Soviet Sputnik launch to win reelection to the Senate and later the Presidency, all because then President Eisenhower was focusing US resources on other initiatives while the Soviets were increasing military might. In a later report, that was found to not be the case. The same has been happening with the educational system: the US is falling behind the Soviets, Japanese, Germans, Chinese and Indians. That was part of the reason for No Child Left Behind, where a large focus was placed on testing, more specifically testing in math and science.
An educator now myself, in a arts and sciences charter school, the section I found most telling (so far in his book at least), Zhao talks about a talent show in Okemos that his daughter participated in. As he put it, "The lack of standards and assessment may provoke some critics of American education to argue that these kinds of practices lead to a lack of rigor in education, and it may be precisely that attitude that has caused American student's low performance on international tests. But I argue that activities such as the talent show at Central Elementary School represent one of the greatest strengths of American education for a number of reasons." His reasons include the talent show being inclusive, that the talent show encourages initiative and responsibility, the talent show sends a message to the community on the importance of valuing different talents and that everyone is talented in their own way, and that the talent show helps everyone to be proud of their strengths as opposed to their weaknesses.
I think Zhao is spot on with this assessment. One of the things we are focusing on at the Academy of Arts and Sciences is personalized education for each of our scholars. The other is ensuring they are prepared for their future success. It is important to note, as this was a long discussion with our vision statement (all 70+ of our employees participated in the discussion of our new vision statement), that we are not just preparing our scholars for college. Not everyone will go to college, so it is important to prepare them for whatever they choose is next in their life after high school and to be able to be successful.
The strength, then, is not solely on assessment and grades earned in coursework, but honing and refining talent which comes in many shapes and forms. We know the business world is looking for innovation; perhaps we all need to host more talent shows.
J.J. Lewis - a blog sharing the journey throughout SDSU's MA.EL. program.