Thursday, November 5, 2009

Which crisis?

One of the main purposes of this blog is to explore the connection between test-driven education and the promotion of authoritarian values in our schools. As I argued at more length here, the pressure to raise standardized test scores has led schools to dwell heavily on obedience and behavioral compliance, which necessarily undermines any emphasis on the importance of inquiry, skepticism, and thought.

Is it worth it? Some might say it is. There is a crisis in American education, we are repeatedly told. We are falling behind our economic competitors. We are losing our advantage in the hyper-competitive global economy. The cure for this crisis is Accountability, which means more and more emphasis on standardized test scores as a measure of whether schools are succeeding. Creating good citizens is a nice ideal, but the economic reality is that we need to create good workers.

Is it true that, for the sake of our kids’ futures, we need to focus more on producing good workers than on producing capable citizens? Consider two sets of facts:

1. “[E]ighth grade students in the United States perform at a level that is slightly below average in mathematics and slightly above average in science. The countries whose students outperformed U.S. students in both subjects were Singapore, Korea, Japan, the Czech Republic and Hungary. . . . [O]nly five percent of U.S. eighth graders would qualify for inclusion among the world's top 10 percent in mathematics, whereas 45 percent of Singapore's students would fall into this category.” Those figures provide “‘ample evidence that our curricula and expectations for our young people are not demanding enough,’ said Norman R. Augustine, vice chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation and chairman of the Education Task Force of The Business Roundtable, a corporate group.”

2. In 2002 and 2003, the President of the United States argued that America needed to invade and occupy Iraq to keep the world safe from Saddam Hussein’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. The major news media applied little skepticism to that claim, and served largely as a vehicle for passing along the administration’s unscrutinized assertions. The slogan “Support Our Troops” was adopted by large numbers of people as a persuasive argument for going to war. Opponents of the war were widely vilified as unpatriotic extremists. That war uncovered no weapons of mass destruction, resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, ensured generations of hostility toward our country in large sections of the world, and will eventually cost the United States two to three trillion dollars or more, most of it borrowed.

Which of those two paragraphs has more troubling implications for our kids’ futures?

..How can I comment?