Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rah Rah Rah

Two interesting pieces about education in the NY Times today, one in The Week in Review section, called Testing the Chinese Way, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, and the other an opinion piece, We're No. 1(1)! by Thomas Friedman: whether intentional or not, to me they seemed rather companionable.

Rosenthal recounts the experience of her own children when enrolled in an international school in Beijing. It was, she writes, "a mostly Western elementary school curriculum with the emphasis on discipline and testing that typifies Asian educational styles." Her point seems to be that neither of her children suffered unduly under such a regiman, although her son did have a year when he required "endless parental cheerleading" and that when they returned to the States, the kids chose a more traditional program because they preferred the feedback that regular testing provided them. The question of whether such a test-centered approach actually benefited her children is left unanswered; it seems that the best she can say is that they were not harmed by it. To me the obvious follow up question is would we be able to say the same about those kids who may not have endless parental cheerleading?

Just a few pages later in the Sunday paper, Thomas Friedman addresses the fact that the USA is not even in the top ten of Newsweek Magazine's top 100 countries in the world. (We're number 11.) Friedman attributes the poor ranking to our education system, and cites Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson's opinion that when it comes to education reform the fault may not lie with "bad teachers, weak principals, or selfish unions," but rather with a lack of student motivation. In a recent piece Samuelson wrote, "Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don't like school, don't work hard and don't do well."

Where are those parental cheerleaders when you need them?


  1. So many of your pieces make me think. Hard. My friend and I (another community college teacher) have been trading notes and quips over the Dropout Factory article (email me if you want the link) which is about failing colleges--that is to say, colleges which are failing to be the kind of college a good student needs. She noted the blurb that said that if a student fails anything in K-12 we blame it on the teacher, the student, the district. But when that same student fails at college, we blame them.

    I admit this gives me a lot less guilt for what goes on at grading time, and I tell them often that they're in the big world now and responsible for their grades. But I now teach a remedial class and at every quiz grading session, it's agony for me. I have now made a three chapter quiz into a two chapter quiz, and when I return from the East Coast (can you see me? I've waving at you from Crystal City) I'm going to "dumb it down" further in order for them to pass. Yes, it's true, only about 20% of them are doing their homework in their text, but I hate anyone to feel a failure, be a failure. Even though prevailing thought leaves me "off the hook," I do feel badly at how badly these students are doing on things like quotation marks, pronoun yes, etc.

    I'm headed over to the NYTimes now to read these articles. thanks.

  2. I think the issue of motivation is one of relevance. Are the tests, projects, writing pieces, whatever, important to the students, and not just because we say they should be?

    (I thought that was you waving.)