I Am Pissed At The Lies Being Told About American Education!
Well … they are not really lies per se, more like ‘mis-truths’ or ‘misleading comments’ about our kids here in the U.S.A.
The story reported by PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment) picked up by NPR as “U.S. Students Slide In Global Ranking On Math, Reading, Science” where I got it, is suggestive that American students are falling behind in their math and science scores compared to other countries.
Now here’s the challenge with that statement …
MOST PEOPLE ARE TOO ILLITERATE TO READ THE STORY ABOUT THE FAILING EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM IN AMERICA!!!
I bet that got your attention, huh?
Well that’s my point.
This story is a kind of subtle fear mongering designed to promote the interests of a very select group IMO.
Here’s a definition of “illiterate” from WordNet® 3.0 2006 edition:
- uneducated in the fundamentals of a given art or branch of learning; lacking knowledge of a specific field; “she is ignorant of quantum mechanics”; “he is musically illiterate” [syn: ignorant, illiterate]
Now most people are familiar with the definition of illiterate as:
- not able to read or write [ant: literate] (also from WordNet® 3.0 2006)
Yet the idea that illiterate also means “lacking knowledge of a specific field” escapes them when I use it in the bold statement above.
In this case I’m pointing to being illiterate in a specific way: i.e.: illiterate about how to read the subtleties of statistical information
The U.S. is not falling behind other countries … allow American students remain “sub-average” in ranking when compared to the countries that are “above average” in the PISA study, students in America are showing improvement in math and science scores between the years of 2003 and 2009 (the dates of the studies indicated in the PISA graph). It’s rather that the other countries begin compared with American scores on the PISA standardized test are moving up ahead of the U.S. in this specific scoring and ranking system …
The US is not falling behind at all, their scores have in fact remained flat from 2009, and have gone up since 2003!
NOTE: Using the data from the PISA scores the U.S. is actually tied at 15 in reading, tied at 33 in math and and 22nd in science specifically, so the mean of 28th is bunk when looking at the specific scoring in the individual areas of the test.
The specific score used for China’s ranking in math was the highest in the chart “600” and was from “Shanghai-China” – arguably the most westernized and international city in China (with the possible exception of Hong Kong) with the most privileged educational opportunities in the country, not China at-large, including all the rural and non-metro areas of the country where education is likely least emphasized and least privileged.
As far as I can tell the scoring for the United States was a mean score for the entire country, presumably including all of our most economically underprivileged, and arguably least educationally privileged, regions. I’d personally be curious to see how students in the most privileged U.S. educational communities, like the one I live in near Princeton, NJ, would score comparatively.
(Ref: “Shanghai tops international test scores” SOURCE: 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development | The Washington Post – Dec. 7, 2010)
These are the kinds of distinctions that must be accounted for when looking at comparative test results and scoring.
Look at the chart provided from PISA that’s attached to the article I referenced above … it’s very clear from that chart what’s happening; much better than the article states it in words IMO.
THE U.S. IS NOT FALLING BEHIND AT ALL IN MATH AND SCIENCE per se … JUST IN THIS ‘SPECIFIC’ SYSTEM OF TESTING … AGAINST THE IMPROVEMENT MADE BY OTHER COUNTRIES!
There’s an question hiding inside of this data from my point of view.
What is the data, as it’s being presented publicly, intended to demonstrate and/or suggest … and who would benefit from the results the data indicates?
I don’t want to leap off of the “conspiracy death curve” … but I believe that more often than not statistics have an insidious purpose when they are applied to making a point without clarity about reasoning behind how the statistics were generated and the results arrived at by them.
To quote a favorite scholar of mine, Gregory Bateson … “shoddy epistemology!”
So what’s the big deal … why all the fuss about math and science scores???
Better math and science scores means a better chance at getting the “cubicle” jobs available in the current market conditions.
Yup … that’s it.
The U.S. and other developed countries need people in cubicles to run the sophisticated technology we depend on, to run our laboratories where drugs are made, to step into the industrial-military complex where the big money is spent to make millionaires and billionaires out of the capitalists that own the factories and businesses behind them … and we’re losing those jobs to immigrants who are better trained at filling the cubicle positions because they are better trained in rote math and science studies.
Here’s my proposition …
Americans who attend our public and private elementary and secondary schools, and continue onto both our public and private universities are among the best trained “thinkers” on the planet … BAR NONE!”
Instead of getting lost in this ridiculous intensity about producing better trained rote mental robots that will compete with the rote mental robots being produced in other countries … let’s focus on building up the creative and entrepreneurial skills of our youth so we can employ those folks as we continue to build the best and most successful businesses, products and services on the planet.
America will NOT produce more creative/entrepreneurial adults by focusing more heavily on math and science … BUT BY REINTRODUCING MORE HUMANITIES AND ARTS INTO OUR SCHOOL CURRICULUMS!!!
This is especially true in our elementary schools … and heck, our pre-schools as well where we’re beginning to see an earlier and earlier introduction of math and science into the curriculums there as well.
(Does it seem ridiculous to anyone but me that pre-schools even have curriculums??!!!????!!)
FWIW in my mind this includes the movement arts …
We need more music and dance in our schools … not longer school days and school years to improve what calculators and computers will always outperform humans at doing …
LET’S MAKE WHAT MAKES US MOST HUMAN MOST IMPORTANT!
A couple of other statistics that might be more telling than math and science scores …
Now let’s cross-map the impact of math and science in terms of real output. IMO this would be the test of applicability of the learning, more so than testing well, i.e.: what can you do with what you’ve learned?
From my point of view learning is all about the ability to perceive, think, imagine and create … not about regurgitating rote information.
So how about using information about worldwide patents issued???
In that ‘test’ where would the United States residents come out?
Well based upon a global study done in 2006 (a period that overlaps with the PISA study quoted about declining U.S. math and science scores BTW) … it turns out that the Americans did pretty dang well!
In fact the only country that surpasses the U.S. in patent grants is Japan … which is statistically relevant, especially when you consider that the population of Japan is about 1/6 of the United States.
Here’s some data for you …
When you look at the data you’ll get a sense of who’s doing what worldwide in terms of creating “new stuff” … as in new products, technologies, drugs, etc. … and you’ll see that the U.S. is by no means “failing” in any way!
In fact when you cross map the data from the PISA study and see how well the students from countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands are doing in math and science … and how well that translates into new patent filings you’ll see that the U.S. education begins to look quite a bit better very quickly (yes, I’ve taken into account the small populations of those countries in my comments).
How about we move on … to Nobel Prize winners, a distinction about who has done truly significant, often seminal, groundbreaking work in their field of expertise???
Here’s the list:
Now when you scroll down you’ll see that there are some pretty impressive turn outs given the population by folks in places like:
Austria, Canada, Denmark, France (very impressive prior to about 1940), Germany (both pre- and post- war geographical distinctions), Italy, Japan, Norway (very impressive given the population), Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sweden (a little over-represented? … maybe some bias there???), Netherlands (again, very impressive given the population), and then you come to …
United Kingdom … HOLY COW!!! … that’s a long list!
And, look at the dates for the Brits … consistent winners from the early 1900s through to the most recent prize awards.
By the way if you’re still up to it after reading this far, try cross mapping the list of Nobel Prize winners with the PISA graphic of math and science scores.
Especially look at the countries where there were declining scores and those where the scores were improving against the most recent prizes awarded by the Nobel committee.
Then you get to the United States Nobel Prize winners … and you have to ask yourself … “REALLY? Are we really worried about the state of education in the United States recently???”
Okay … that’s not just a long list … it’s a crazy long list!!!
And, look at the dates of the prizes awarded too.
Notice the number of Nobel prizes awarded for achievement (i.e.: not the Peace Prize) in the last decade or so to Americans, versus those awarded to folks from elsewhere.
Also, notice the categories that Americans receive the award for specifically. Nobel Prize winners from the U.S. dominate the list in Economics, Chemistry, (Physiology of) Medicine, Physics … with the only real competition in numbers coming in some categories from the Brits.
This is an impressive achievement for a country to lay claim to year after year. Not bad for one with such a “failing” educational system, eh?
Do you think we do so well on the world stage because of the rote learning of math and science required to score well on standardized tests???
OR … do you think that Americans do so well in the application of math and sciences because we’re taught to think and have the freedom to imagine what hasn’t be discovered to be taught yet?
If we follow the plans that the cabal of educational critics will have us believe we’ll focus on scoring well on standardized test, while we give up our children’s future ability to think and imagine.
Is this what we really want for the future of American education???
Creativity and imagination is where it’s at IMO!!!
To illustrate competence in creativity I want to use one more comparison, the MacArthur Foundation grants and prizes.
Here’s a comment about the MacArthur Foundation from their website:
“The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.” – See more at: http://www.macfound.org/about/#sthash.BBwbRFQe.dpuf
This foundation awards what some people refer to as the “Creative Nobel Prize” – specifically looking to recognize and award creativity and imaginative approaches and solutions to significant issues in the world.The foundation is open to international inquiries, nominations and submissions.
While MacArthur grants are open to international applicants the Fellows program is solely for Americans So while looking at MacArthur Fellows won’t give us a clue about their ranking comparative to potential fellows from other places, because they are no such fellows, it will give us a chance to look at some of things some of the best and brightest from America are up to …
So the question again is, “In the international pool where do Americans swim when it comes to generating innovative and creative solutions to significant global issues such as those addressed by MacArthur Foundation fellows?”
Here’s the 2013 MacArthur Fellows List:
Take a look at what American education produces and also what some of the top American educators look like through the lens of the MacArthur Fellows Class of 2013.
Once again I’d argue that …
The difference that makes a difference is education (especially early education IMO) is promoting a sense of wonder and curiosity … as well as a sense of intellectual confidence … that we’d all be better served putting our attention on than the building of rote memorization or methodology skills that the PISA standardized test measures for showing Americans falling behind in math and science.
What do you think it does to the psyches of our young when they are presented with misleading information about their “failure to perform on the world stage” in regard to considering their future … and the future of our nation???
And, once again that insidious proposition, “Who does this serve in the long run???”
I’d love to hear your thoughts about American education … or education anywhere in the world for that matter.
IMO there is nothing more important to us than protecting and preserving the future of our people and our planet … it is the sacred task we’re born into, like it or not.
What do you think???
PS – WARNING: massive Parental Pride follows … take care in reading further.
FWIW I have two children I inordinately proud of that are products of American education … both of whom attended American public schools.
My son Jason, a doctoral candidate at U.C. Davis in Ecology, attended American public schools though the end of his secondary schooling, and went on to graduate from the University of Vermont’s Honors College, and Duke University with a MEM (Masters in Environmnental Management) and a M.F. (Masters of Forestry), before beginning his Ph.D. work.
Jason is now working on mapping projects in Africa using global imaging, with a major scientific paper published in his name as lead author … and he was never a top science or math student recruited by top universities for his skills in those areas as a secondary student. While he was a quite respectable student, his skills were much more broadly focused than on a narrow band of learning in math or science, and today it is that broad approach that is creating the value he adds to the science he is publishing — alongside some of the world’s leading conservation biologists and ecologists BTW.
My daughter Michaela attended a private Waldorf school through fifth grade and then transferred to a local public school to complete her elementary education. She is a good student in the maths and sciences, but outstanding in the arts and writing. How would a student like her be better served by more focus on math and science in her schooling??? Where would she find time to do her art and writing in an already overcrowded academic routine … i.e.: three to four hours of homework a night, much of it in math and science. For my two cents I’d rather her have no homework, and three to four hours of time outdoors, dancing, singing, drawing, sculpting, conversing with friends and standing in awe at the wonder of the world-at-large that surrounds her. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help her navigate a course in secondary school that allows for many, many hours of wonder … not filled with repetitious rote learning.
As you can see this is more than mere speculation on my part or the opinions of an interested observer standing apart at arm’s length.
NOTE: I’m about to publish my next book on “whole-form learning and whole-form communication” … my next after that, which I’ve begun writing, will be on “whole-form” parenting. All the best – Joseph.