Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Educating Our Way to Prosperity

We will never fully recover from this recession.  At least, not by doing what we have been doing.  It doesn't matter who is elected president, or if congress suddenly realizes that toddlers do a better job of compromise, step up to the plate and stop bickering long enough to actually run the legislative branch.  No, those things will have little or no effect on things because the real problem in the United States is that it has turned its back on the one great economic stimulus engine we have:  the free public education available to all citizens.  

I don't know how to make this any simpler:  unless you educate our youth to compete with the rest of the world, we aren't going to be able to compete.  Until we stop teacher bashing in the media and look for ways to help them do their nearly impossible jobs, until we respect education as the great equalizer that it is, until we stop taking money away from schools and forcing them to cut programs that are proven to help kids learn, and until we invest in our future at at least the same level as we invest in protecting ourselves from those who would do us harm, we don't have much hope for the future.  

The world's problems are big.  The jobs that students today will need to do in the future are complex.  We cannot continue to do the same things and expect different results.  The data is in, and it's glaringly obvious that testing kids to death doesn't make them smarter.  Filling in bubbles doesn't help them solve problems, think creatively about solutions to complex issues, or collaborate with others on difficult tasks which require experts from various fields.  Giving them drugs to make them sit still, be quiet, and listen to more lecture isn't going to create the kind of worker the future-and this economy-needs.  

We don't need assembly line workers anymore.  We don't need thoughtless clones who follow orders without question.  China and India each have more honor students than we have students.  Can you blame American companies for going outside our borders to recruit?  They can't find enough qualified people here to fill the kinds of jobs that are in high demand.  

We don't need standardized tests to help us do it better.  "Better" won't cut it anymore.  We need "different".  The entire model of school needs to change.  It needs to be more like the life we are preparing students to have.  

We need thinkers, collaborators, problem solvers, effective communicators, and most of all-we need learners who know how to learn, unlearn, and relearn as things change.  We need people who can evaluate things from different angles, then invite experts in to help them with the things they can't solve themselves.  In schools today, that's called cheating.  

The old way doesn't fit our needs anymore.  It's time to stop talking about how to make it better and dig in with the real work of retooling our education system to meet the needs of the learners.