Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Can You Imagine?

We hear all the time that students in almost every other country are outpacing our own students in math and science. We are repeatedly reminded that we are falling behind in the "global economy". Numbers don't lie but they don't always tell the complete truth either. These countries are excellent at producing people with brain power but at what cost? According to some in education it's the loss of imaginiation.

Gatto made this point in one of his talks I attended this weekend, Conformity of thought produces just, that people who all think the same way. The ability to imagine and think critically or "outside the box" is lost in the quest for conformity measured by standardized exams. While China is able to produce many of our products at unbelievably low prices they are making products that WE invent and create. America seems to excel at exporting ideas while the other countries merely mass produce our inventions and ideas.

This point isn't lost on Tharman Shanmugaratnam. He's the Minister of Education of Singapore, the country that is No. 1 in the global science and math rankings for schoolchildren. Newsweek reporter Fareed Zakaria asked the minister how to explain the fact that even though Singapore's students do so brilliantly on these tests, when you look at these same students 10 or 20 years later, few of them are movers and shakers in their industries. Quoting from Zakaria's article,

Singapore has few truly top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives or academics. American kids, by contrast, test much worse in the fourth and eighth grades but seem to do better later in life and in the real world. Why?

"We both have meritocracies," Shanmugaratnam said. "Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well—like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

Better learn fast Mr. Shanmugaratnam because times are a changing quickly here in America. We can only imagine what conformity of thought will bring to our country as standardized tests become a way of life around here.

By contrast consider what 19th century educator and writer Charlotte Mason said about the link between education and ideas,
"Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas that are of spiritual origin, and that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child's inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food" ~ Charlotte Mason.

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