Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Swimming Upstream

Random thought.

I’ve been a little quiet. Life has a way of getting in the way of blogging. Well, life and a nasty flu bug that played “tag, you’re it” with all five in our family.

Anyway, I was thinking about comments I’ve read over the months (years?) about how US students cannot be fairly compared to those in other countries, particularly Asian countries, because they are so culturally different from our kids. They are respectful, driven, focused, and the home puts major emphasis on education…

I get the argument, but it’s based wholly on stereotyping and no one seems to stop to ask- what about US students who have a similar value system at home?

I send children to school who respect their teachers, do their homework, turn assignments in on time, read every day, and go the extra mile. They find pleasure in pursuing knowledge for its own sake and not because someone promises to make it fun and entertaining. Their value system at home highly prizes education and it is the priority on their list of responsibilities. The bar is set high and they work diligently everyday to learn something new.

How are they so very different from the students in Asian schools? I just don’t buy it. I think that too many times, the problem is not the student’s values as it applies to education. It comes down to the culture of education in our schools and in our country.

In the US, some children have that value system at home, others do not. Schools have no control over this variable. They do, however, have control over the culture and philosophy at school. That's one of the reasons why schools like KIPP are so successful. There is an expectation of high achievement, there is an expectation of parental involvement, there is a culture of academic excellence.

This power to establish a culture that values the pursuit of excellence, the quest for knowledge, and the respect for academic achievement at school, can overcome many of the negative influences outside campus walls. Unfortunately, public schools almost always give this power away. They lower the standards to accomodate lack of motivation, focus, and drive instead of setting the bar high and expecting children to rise to the occasion. So, that's what you end up with.

Sadly, the efforts of many of our children go mostly unrewarded. We have become a culture in which the pursuit of excellence isn’t at all necessary. All you have to do is meet expectations and given how low those expectations are, that’s not saying very much.

So, please don’t blame my children or the many, many other equally dedicated students I know when PISA or TIMSS or NAEP make clear how far our nation is sinking. Too many children will just have to keep swimming upstream while schools try to figure out why so many others haven't discovered how to swim all by themselves.

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