Yes, the American government’s efforts to raise our children’s reading and math levels are valid. Without a solid understanding of these elementary skills, a child will most likely be unable to progress to higher education. But how will he/she fare in the longer run? By obsessing over standardized test scores, we may be putting blinders on our children, denying them the stimulants that ignite their curiosity. A country--in or out of a recession--thrives on creativity. New ideas formulate new jobs and new industries, ensuring that our country not only stays afloat but enabling us to make discoveries. If we restrain our children’s academic focus, we subsequently are limiting the growth and prosperity of our country’s future.
In trying to figure out what should define American education, let’s take a look at our options:
Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the U.S. government has focused on yearly statistics to determine the success of children’s education. Government officials have set a goal for every American student to reach grade level reading and math scores by 2014. But as of December 2011, half of the country’s schools failed to reach these standards. Even if it is possible to eventually reach this quantitative standard, it may not be a good use of our time. Many states have already concluded that the NCLB does not match their educational aims, and they in turn are pursuing waivers to the act.
In addition to the recession, the government’s fixation with reading and math scores has stripped art, music, and other specialized departments from our nation’s schools. By replacing cultural and recreational activities with a focus on basic skills, are we actually doing the children a favor? Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan argues, “when you eliminate extra curriculars and art and P.E. and music, you absolutely hurt your children and ultimately you hurt your state.” We need to integrate the importance of raw curiosity into the curriculum. Motivating a child to pursue his/her interests is far more beneficial than forcing skill sets on unwilling students. We nourish our youth’s enthusiasm for it will spawn far greater results than those measured by test scores.
Awareness of Surroundings
“Don’t ever let school get in the way of education” said one mother to another. It was a crisp winter day and snow had blanketed the town overnight. The first mother had dressed her children in snow gear and was excited to share her passion for the outdoors with her children. On the contrary, the second mother feared missing a day of reading and math classes was one day too many. But when comparing the sublime, snowy mountainside to arithmetic exercises, which will inspire a child more?
By simply observing her surroundings, one student at the Royal College of Art imagined a way to improve the world around her. Ariane Prin witnessed loads of waste exiting RCA’s art rooms and cafeterias every day. “I believe design is about exploring the social and natural opportunities around us, taking advantage of every situation by connecting human activities with environmental principles.” With such an optimistic mindset, Prin soon invented a way to break down these scraps of clay and flour and recycle them into tools used by every student both today and in the future: pencils. Let us look to this innovative artist for inspiration.
As some voices in the United States have already expressed, it is pertinent that we re-assess our definition and approach to education. We must get our hands off of the calculators and our heads out of the computer data. After all, it was Albert Einstein who said, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” Instead, we need to breathe in our surroundings and listen to our instinctive yearnings. By fostering our children’s fervor, they will learn to direct their own education and, finally, our future.
Guest Contributor: Burgess Rice