America, We Have a Problem

An enlightened colleague sent me this SFGate article by Norman Augustine, retired CEO and chairman of Lockheed Martin. Even though the content has been fodder in Haulin’ ‘Net since ’05, I’m passing the article along to stoke the forward-thinking conversation.

Here’s a refresher from the article:

Fifty years after Sputnik, I find that my sinking feeling has returned. One might say, “America, we have a problem.” The rest of the world caught up as we became complacent. We have lost our edge in math and science, two of the essential economic tools of the 21st century.

We are at the dawn of the 21st century, and our children no longer measure up in these disciplines to their peers in the rest of the world. We rank 24th internationally among 15-year-olds in math performance.

There’s no point in looking for a scapegoat. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We dropped the science ball a number of years ago, under-emphasizing research and education, while our international competitors were learning how to make “slam dunks.”

Unfortunately, our future might not be as bright as our past. Countries such as India, South Korea, Japan and China have copied the approach to innovation that has driven our economy for the last half century, and they are using that approach to beat us at our own game, even in our backyard.

It’s not just math and science. Arguably, the building block of school success is good old fashioned literacy—the ability to read and write very well.

Today’s students will not only have to deal with the fallout of the “silver tsunami,” but as Augustine reminds us they will also have to compete globally in a flattening world. And do the majority of them even have a clue?

Just about every school system has a mission statement akin to this: The mission of XYZ School System is to prepare students to be productive citizens.

So, how’s that future-ready discussion going?

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3 Responses to America, We Have a Problem

  1. rockwalker says:

    Seems like hardly anyone is commenting here, so I’ll break the ice and have a go. I could restate the obvious that education isn’t a priority in America (if priorities are defined by where we spend our money) and this is the predictable result.

    However, I think that I’ll take a more controversial point of view and hopefully stir up some conversation. Modern education is a broken thing and we need to put it out of its misery. The “modern” educational concepts of concrete classes and memorized facts were designed and well suited to training people to be functionally literate factory workers. However, today’s working environment bears little resemblance to Henry Ford’s America.

    Instead of continuing to cling to outdated ideas and pedagogies, let’s instead use the research and facts about human development in a new way. Instead of trying to fit new ideas into old models, simply make a new model that fits better. Where is it written that students must learn in “grade schools”?

    I realize that such a move would be “scary” to the people of the educational institution who’ve spent so much time and effort in our current system and that most of those people (despite their protestations to the contrary) think real change is “bad,” but I think that our results speak for themselves.

    Students see little to no correlation with what they’re learning and what they’ll be required to know; high school graduates are practically required to attend additional school to actually prepare themselves for any job more difficult than newstand operator; and of course the “most telling” tidbit is that we’re being out-competed by most everyone else for jobs.

    Now, THERE’S something to think about.

  2. rlib says:

    Amen! One of the best things we could do for our kids is to remove the idea of “grade levels” and get back to teaching kids what they don’t know. Current curriculums are repetitive and dull, and leave out all the “good stuff”. Why should kids learn something at a particular point when they know they will be learning it again next year, and the next, and the next…..? Science has been relegated to the back burner because it is not “tested” – which is another issue altogether. And math is so simplified in elementary and middle school as to be laughable. We are creating a culture of kids who can’t think; who want to know how long, how many words, and how many points is it worth; rather than students who love learning for learning’s sake. Wake up folks!!

  3. Until students and their parents value education as much as they do grades, we as a nation will continue our downward slide into mediocrity (or worse, complacency). Because short term memory to boost test scores has become more important to our governing “bodies” than higher order thinking skills, teachers will continue to “teach to the test” rather than go with “teachable moments” that are always showing up in classroom of all disciplines. (e.g. The use of calculators to do simple math is an example of the way we have given in to the easy way out. Sure, batteries are always available, but so is credit card debit for the math-deficient. Real-life math would be of greater benefit to the masses then doing more problems faster with the calculator.)

    The “socratic book” has no answers in the back of it; it has only questions to answer questions. Socrates educated without giving answers. He raised the level of thinking from flat to spherical; from what is, to what is possible. He is the original “personal trainer” of the mind. I’d like to think we could change the way children are taught so that they see themselves as “searchers of truth ” rather than “takers of the fastest way out”.
    (‘nuff said.)

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