Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

3-11 Not Willing to Do What It Takes

FRI, 3-11-11

SANTA FE - The United States never again will be a world leader in education. Our culture, traditions and the American way will preclude it from happening again.
It's a bitter pill to swallow but we must admit that our society is unwilling to do what it takes to be first again - or anywhere near it.
The major component of our decline began around the middle of the past century when psychologists decided children should have fun and enjoy their childhood.
Contrast that with the trip newswoman Diane Sawyer took to China recently. Many of us saw her on the newscast she anchors asking a classroom of Chinese students what they liked least about school.
The answer was "the pressure." Then Sawyer asked what the children liked most about school. Again, the answer was "the pressure."
The responses were too choreographed to have been unrehearsed. But the message likely was very accurate. Read about Chinese tiger moms and learn that Chinese children don't like pressure any better than American children but when the pressure forces them to master a subject or activity, it is a source of lifelong joy.
We've heard about the high teen suicide rate in Japan and the same may be true in China because of the pressures put on their youth. But it's not going to make Asians less demanding of their children.
One reason for Chinese pressure on their children is that they only are allowed one per family in order to solve the country's overpopulation problem. With only one child , all the parents' energy goes toward making that child the best.
Contrast that with American culture. We have family planning clinics but part of America is opposed, sometimes violently, to such operations. A family with many children has much less time to spend with each child. And even that time is diluted further by both parents having to work extra jobs to support a large family.
China isn't even the leading example of pressure put on students to excel in school. Singapore pulled itself up from one of the poorest economies in the world to one of the top through installing perhaps the most rigorous of education systems anywhere. Schools are ranked by quality as are children. Students are ranked from number one on down and everyone knows their ranking. Singapore educators insist it doesn't cause self-esteem problems. It merely is a message to students to try harder.
Students in poor countries know that education is their only way out. American middle class students figure they will wind up at least as well as their parents. As a result, they aren't as likely to take the hardest courses.
Under Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico students may see some tougher standards. Her Education Department designee wants to retain third grade students who can't pass a national reading test. And schools will be given letter grades A through F. We'll see if they become law.
Third grade retention passed the House 62-5 last week so it appears to have a good chance of becoming law. The idea is appealing. It was appealing 50 years ago when I taught.
We held students back occasionally but it was based on more than reading scores. Most often the major component of our decisions was the maturity level of the child and whether we felt another year would do the trick.
Social promotion always has been controversial. Parents have to be a part of the decision-making process throughout the year. If it is sprung on them at the end of the year, parents almost always veto retention.
Of course, if parents are involved throughout the year, their child usually improves reading skills through more parental support and private tutoring.
But too many parents, even if they are financially and educationally able to give their child extra help, tend to ignore the problem and blame the school and the bad teacher.



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