To the Editor:
The best thing that could happen to U.S. education policy would be for educators to heed the hints in Yong Zhao’s Commentary about changes in China’s approach to education (“A Pause Before Plunging Through the China Looking Glass,” May 10, 2006). I recently returned from a two-month trip to Thailand, where education reform is mirroring China’s for basically the same reasons. While I suspect that success will be difficult for the Thais because of tradition and other factors, they certainly aren’t looking to emulate current American trends.
They, like the Chinese, want to free their students to become creative learners, not ones who regurgitate facts and lessons. They have realized that high-stakes testing limits curricula, instruction, and students’ chances to develop a broad range of abilities. It dulls the mind and inhibits both teachers’ and students’ ingenuity, the wellspring of entrepreneurship. The result is boredom, a lack of relevance, and unnecessary, counterproductive anxiety.
I returned from Thailand more convinced of the error in the United States’ educational direction. We need to quit comparing ourselves with others and start building on our strengths. To do that, we must start thinking outside the box, and emphasize the development of skills through more interdisciplinary projects that involve technology and teamwork. We also must foster a greater sense of the importance of lifelong learning in students by giving them leeway to determine the topics within those projects, while demanding excellence and authenticity. Let students produce and defend, then let the public judge the results.
To invest in the next generation, we need to lower class sizes, pay teachers well, and pour resources into rural and urban schools. But we first must find a 21st-century model for education, instead of relying on what was good for the past two generations.
A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2006 edition of Education Week as Innovation Is Needed, Not International Comparison