Monday, March 28, 2011

Competitive Test Taking

We are told that this is our Sputnik moment. That we must out-educate the rest of the world. That we must teach our children to be more competitive than ever. That we are in a race to the top.


The top of what?


Sputnik already happened. It lead to a cold-war space race to see who could get to the moon first. We won. Then once we got there, we decided we weren’t interested in staying.


Why do we have to teach all our children to be more competitive? And how does testing them for two weeks when they are nine years old make them more competitive? Are we entering an international standardized test taking competition? With Finland?


Some people are naturally competitive. Some are accommodating, or cooperative, or supportive, or analytical, or encouraging, or creative, or imaginative. Isn’t it better for our kids and their future to encourage all these ways of being and more.


China has always had better test scores than the US. Interestingly, in his latest blog Chinese born and educated Yong Zhoa, now Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, writes that,


China’s imperial testing system, keju, enticed generations of Chinese to study for the test so as to earn a position in government and bring glory to the family. But it has been blamed as a cause of China’s failure to develop modern science, technology, and enterprises as well as China’s repeated failures in wars with foreign powers because good test takers are just that: good at taking tests and nothing else. Until today, China is still working hard to move away from a test-oriented education in order to have the talents to build a knowledge-based economy.

I’m not going to train my children to be hyper competitive. They don’t need to be in order to live successful lives. I want them to be happy, curious and confident. I want them them to love learning, discovery and invention. I want them to learn to think for themselves, to question marketing drivel presented as “facts,” to recognize the difference between evidence and opinion. I want them to use their talents for good and meet their challenges with dignity and courage.

I know the world is changing and that the challenges of the future are looming. But don’t we want the best and the brightest working together to meet those challenges? If a child has a love of art, or music, or dance, or loves tinkering with engines, or reading, or animals, shouldn’t that love be nurtured and encouraged? We can either have a society that gives all kids the tools they need to discover their unique potential, or we can win the international test taking championship.

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