Readjust priorities to repair education

The recent News editorial, “Fixing education,” noted that China has begun to back away from a system many feel is too intense for the students. But it didn’t explain why. China is concerned about losing its competitive edge in the world’s economy. Chinese officials have repeatedly told their schools to reduce testing, homework and other academic burdens on young students because they have realized that spectacular international test scores do not lead to invention, creativity or imagination. Impetus to seek these attributes comes from realizing that their skilled employees and managers must be able to think and invent their own products if they want to rise beyond their current economic plateau.

In contrast, U.S. businesses excel at developing innovative products. Our democratic traditions and current management guidance often encourage employees to challenge the status quo, to work around rigid authority or inflexible rules. We undertake joint efforts often without orders from above to get things done in nontraditional ways. Historically, we have patented more inventions than any other country in the world.

Isn’t it logical that we would celebrate and reward our children’s original thinking, imaginative problem-solving and divergent routes to success? Apparently not, inasmuch as our federal and state policymakers make up cumbersome rules and award massive grants in a crusade to race us to the top of international assessment programs. Truth is, U.S. students achieve differently, often in ways found more in extracurricular activities and clubs than in classrooms where mandated curriculum and written tests must be aligned.

If today’s students are to become tomorrow’s global business leaders, we should build educationally on what we already do well economically. We need to readjust our priorities and embrace the lessons China is trying so hard to learn.

Jeffrey M. Bowen