It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated." -- Alec Bourne
By most accounts, in education American youth lag behind others in the world. We can catch up if we're determined to do so, but it won't be easy or quick; it will take totally rethinking our approach to education. Aren't we doing OK, even though we lag behind with education? Not so much, if we consider the crouching tigers of China and others where they take excellence in education seriously.
Essentially in America, what it will take to begin cultivating educational excellence across socioeconomic strata include the painful pill of removing athletics programs from our school and applying the funds and attention to improving our teacher support and curricula; changing from a memorization-testing mindset to one of critical thinking; keeping our children in school closer to the 230 days of Chinese children rather than the 180 days of ours (ours are in school less than half the calendar year), thereby reducing or eliminating hours of homework and hiring teachers from the tops of their graduating classes.
Will our youngsters feel stressed at settling for a physical education class with an Olympic mindset rather than a football or basketball team? As Tom Friedman suggests, instead of the stress of buckling down to a culture of learning, "stress will be not understanding the thick Chinese accent of our kid's first boss. That will be stress."
In order to make the quantum leap to excellence, of course, we must continue teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, but that's no longer enough. We must commit to making the quantum leap of absorbing the traditional studies while adding a 21st-century curriculum and global attitude.
Just as our parents could not have conceived the huge progress in communication, information and technology we have experienced in the last three decades, we cannot imagine the changes our children will experience as they enter a world with entirely different challenges from the world in which we gained our education. We must view education from the standpoint of what they will encounter, rather than the status quo.
The first change we must make is huge. We must shift from our culture of playing at school and at home, to one of learning. In all our schools, we must teach critical thinking, communication skills and computer coding -- all in a setting of problem-solving teamwork.
We can, and must, close the socioeconomic education gap through free online education, such as the courses in Khan Academy, primarily though not exclusively, for students in K-12, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for higher education and we must even provide, as Chinese educators do, tutoring to parents who need it in order to help their children learn.
CULTURE OF LEARNING
In our minds, school often lags behind athletics and extracurricular activities in both priority and funding. We do operate with the idea that colleges value extracurricular activities in their entrance criteria but the quality of extracurricular activities is important; for example, starring on the debate team, organizing a fundraiser and taking leadership in student government as well as serving on the newspaper and yearbook are of a much higher value than starring on the football team, or as a cheerleader.
Not fully understanding the link between education and its effect on their future success, our youth are often distracted with social media along with athletics -- tweeting constantly, both in class and out. Facebook, Instagram, games, TV and other social media outlets consume their attention; little, if any is education related. They go to sleep late each night, yet must get up early, supposedly ready to function at a high level.
When they do get to class, far too often they are unprepared; parents often have had little time or energy to supervise and work with them. Or, even worse, parents may tend to complete assignments for them -- particularly those for science fairs.
Chinese children, for example, far outshine ours educationally. Are Chinese children smarter than ours? Not at all, yet they excel where our children -- even the best of them -- lag behind others in the world.
One difference between our children and Chinese children is that Chinese families function in a culture of learning. They do play, of course, but learning is paramount. Parents and teachers interact closely and often; three times weekly is common, to ensure that students are progressing well; their teachers travel the globe in order to improve their skills. Granted, our social problems may be different but, through adaptation, we can follow their success.
"The eight characteristics of critical thinking are asking questions, defining a problem, examining evidence, analyzing assumptions and biases, avoiding emotional reasoning, avoiding oversimplification, considering other interpretations, and tolerating ambiguity... also seen as an essential part of critical thinking," according to Dr. Karen I. Adsit, Director and Professor, Walker Teaching Resource Center, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, TN.
Evaluating the barrage of various opinions and 'facts' we encounter via social media and other outlets, it is important to be able to analyze the information completely and accurately in order to make reasoned decisions on issues that will impact our lives.
Verbal and non-verbal communication skills are at the very core of success or failure in negotiating life's challenges. Excellent communication skills, leading to effective interpersonal relationships, include (but are not limited to) team leadership and team participation as well as conflict resolution and negotiation. These skills help us to present our ideas and projects effectively, and to 'sell' ourselves at job interviews, participate as team leaders and members, and so on; the application of effective communication skills is virtually endless.
Former coach to the U.S. Olympic Team, Dr. Denis Waitley says, "A team in harmony is synergy in motion, where the whole is greater than the sum of the individual talents. When all assignments are understood, when each takes 100 percent responsibility for the outcome, a quantum leap in performance takes place. Winners learn how to become interdependent without sacrificing individuality; how to stand out while fitting in."
Toastmasters International provides an excellent, non-threatening environment for adults who wish to sharpen their communication skills and thus, coach their children.
Thousands of technology jobs are going unfilled in America today because of a lack of qualified candidates. Prospective employers are looking overseas for them. And that's only today.
As we see computers gradually being phased out in favor of other devices, future developments promise unimaginable opportunities in hardware development. (Think robots, computerized shopping, bioengineering, drones, manufacturing and scientific research, for starters.) Savvy students will be poised to delve right into a myriad of employment opportunities, in which they can write their own tickets.
But what about today? "Learning to code is the new literacy,"
writes Denise Detamore, Founder/Director of Advantage Learning Cooperative Educational Center. "It accelerates child development, especially in math. There are over 19 mathematical concepts in SCRATCH (a computer coding program for kids developed by MIT). Imagine an 8-year-old learning about negative numbers, probability, equations, variables, etc.
"Learning to code stimulates creativity and builds confidence in boys and especially for girls, and it unlocks the best and most promising careers in America. According to the U.S. Labor Department there will be a shortage of over 1 million people to fill the jobs in computer science by 2020."
Yes, it is time to realize that the future is here; we can either choose to move with the times, anticipating the future and make the quantum leap to excellence or maintain the status quo and take the consequences. Which will we choose? It's our decision.
Khan Academy provides a brief (free, as always) one-hour introduction to coding, in which students can create their own greeting cards.
An interesting read for students and adults is The iCandidate, despite several malapropisms.