Friday, August 20, 2010

The Global Achievemet Gap

The complete title of this book is: The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need- and What We Can do About It by Tony Wagner. Wagner, like many others, if very concerned about the ever widening gap that is occuring between the up and coming youth of our country and those of others. The job market is no longer local, but regional, and becoming global, a a concern voiced by many others (read What's Your City, check out the 2 Million Minutes Web-site).

Wagner begins the book with a brief overview of the new work environment and proposes "7 Survival Skills" our kids will "need" in order to "survive this new environment. They are: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence; Agility and Adaptability; Initiative & Entrepreneurialism; Effective Oral and Written Communication; Accessing and Analyzing Information; Curiosity and Imagination. It's not a bad list. In fact, I would tend to agree with it.

Wagner goes on to talk about the ineffectiveness of "No Child Left Behind" and how it has increased the amount of time and effort being given to "teach the test." Not only does this take valuable class time away from worthy lessons, but it has also created an environment where the tests and expectations are dumbed down in order for everyone to meet the standard. In other words, the NCLB legislation has created an environment where the standards are lowered to allow every child to appear to be keeping up (when in fact that may not be) as well as an environment that penelizes those not left behind in the first place.

Wagner talks about the new world of NetGen, how they interact with technology, people and their environment, including the academic. Multi-tasking, using technology as a way to socialize, gaming and its influences, etc are covered. Very interesting and thought provoking for those of us not of that generation.

Lastly, there is a look at 3 innovative "Schools That Work" (based upon Wagner's Survival Sills). And for cool schools they are.

I found this book difficult to read. While I initially agreed with Wagner's premise that we need to prepare our the upcoming generations to compete globally, and while I agree that true education is not about teaching to the test, I found the chapter on GenNet confusing, because it's tangential to the premise of the book. I also found several of his definitons and assumptions invalid.

First of all, Wagner asserts that schools are not doing what they are supposed to do. I, as do manyothers, disagree. Social reformers Mann, Dewey and others, modeling after the Prussian school systems of the late 19th century, created schools as a means to get kids off the streets, give them a common language and prepare them for a life of unquestioning servitude to jobs that would support the aristocracy of the time. I believe that the government school systems are doing pretty much what they were designed to do- and it has little to do with true academics.

Secondly, Wagner talks much about how kids are merely taught to "memorize" facts in school and little "true" learning takes place. "Memorizing facts" for a test 3 days a way and then forgetting everything one "memorized" is not how I, or a whole lot of others, would define "memorization." Short term memory work for performance, vs. long term memory work that is internalized, such as what is done in the Grammar stage of Classical Ed illustrates the shallowness of the current government system of context-less, "teaching to the test."

Thirdly, Wagner spends a whole lot of time explaining why education should change to meet the needs, wants and desires of NetGen. I'm in total agreement with him regarding the need for change, but disagree with him as to the reasons why. He is proposing that the definitions change to meet the needs of media/social addicts rather than the rigor and demands of education be met. My take away, though I believe he meant so much more, is to cater to the needs of a generation that has poor study habits, realationships and interests that are a mile wide and a centimeter deep and catering to self. Um, and this will make us globally competitive how?

I enjoyed reading about the Schools That Work. They are a bright light of hope and change in a system that is in desperate need of overhaul. One of the principals of High Tech High explains, " What we're trying to do is create future leaders-civic, nonprofit,and profit-who have a sense of who they are, have a passion with purpose, and have a set of skills. We want them to be able to think, to work in groups and to work independently. We want them to have a set of intellectual behaviors- Deborah Meier (a nationally prominent educator and winner of a MacArtur "Genius" Fellowship) calls them "habits of the mind": to think about significance-why is it important; perspective- what is the point of view; evidence- how do you know; connection- how does it apply; supposition- what if it were different."

For the most part I love that quote and agree that educational reform would do well to carefully consider those values. It certainly captures what we are trying to do ourselves at our modest Home school on the Prairie. But Wagner goes on to talk extensively about how the important thing is to teach kids to question. Question asking about everything, in every situation. Not because questioning is bad or evil or will cause anyone to lose thier faith (unless theirs was small to begin with) But, having recently read, The Last Christian, I was struck by this. The history prof in the book claims that the whole point of education is to learn to ask questions. Facts are not taught. Times, people and places are not memorized. Questions are de riger. Which is just oh, so post-modern. And secondly, laughable. Because I believe that, while Wagner is clearly a post-modernist, he is also reaching and searching for a tried and true educational method and term. It's called Rhetoric, and is the last stage of Classical Education. It's the culmination of a time-tested pedagogy of education, one that America used to embrace, back when it had a 90% literacy rate; memorizing to internalize, understanding and owning the rules of logic, reasoning and argument, and rigorous study allowing the student to clearly communicate complex thoughts and ideas in an orderly, persuasive and engaging manner. Wagner is advocating for something, though I don't believe that he's aware of it, that his post-modern ideology will not make room for.

1 comment:

Rebecca (me!) said...

LOVE your post. No Child Left Behind has truly impacted our children with disabilities. Unless a child is failing, they received very little to NO help unless the parents absolutely stand on someone's desk and jump up and down....IT's so sad to see how our cookie cutter approach to teaching has impacted so many bright and intelligent children...and future generations. I am excited and thankful we have the right / opportunity to homeschool...and I pray that we are able to continue moving forward without being forced to fall into the national standards....