Education always provides two functions — to select and to educate. A nation’s education system functions on behalf of society to decide what kind of talents, knowledge, and skills are useful and what kinds are not. It is intended to cultivate the ones that are valuable and suppress the ones that are deemed undesirable. –Catching Up or Leading the Way
In our district’s curriculum meeting room — the room where all new teachers meet on the first day in the district, the room where content area teachers gather to discuss textbook adoption, the room where RTI committees meet to discuss teaching strategies — hangs many pithy posters. One in particular, however, catches my eye every time I walk into the room. I don’t remember the name attached to the quote, but the rest of it glows luminescent: praise the behaviors you want to see.
Such words seem self-evident. Duh.
The education realm, unfortunately, all too often operates under the deficit model. Focus on what is wrong or missing or insufficient and, well, your problems will loom even larger.
In his book, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, Yong Zhao acknowledges the weaknesses of and the challenges facing the education system of the United States. But he doesn’t dwell on them. In fact, he focuses on our strengths, the things that make us great and amazing and delightful. Pointing out the similarities between “various historical hyperpowers”, Zhao discusses our ability to be “extraordinarily tolerant, inclusive, and pluralistic” (52).
One of the strengths of our education system is that (because of our tendency to embody the above) we have a diversity of talent within our borders. Talent diversity is vital to the health of a nation. According to Zhao, we should be pursuing talent diversity rather than everyone on the same page at the same time in order to achieve the same score on the same standardized test:
- Different talents complement each other.
- Talent diversity breeds innovation and encourages innovators
- Talent diversity prepares societies for change.
His admonition is a valuable one: instead of trying to play “catch up” with the rest of the world and require that our students score competitively on standardized tests, we should “lead the way” and foster talent diversification, digital competencies, and cross-cultural awareness and abilities.
Just because politicians and pundits like to point to international test scores, the true assessment of our education system should be in terms of innovation, ingenuity, and inventions. If we’re truly unable to compete in those three areas, then our education system does, indeed, need overhauling — though, certainly, not in the realm of standardized testing. Heaven save us from the test bubble.