Columnist Maureen Hayden described the lackluster performance of Americans on assessments by the International Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. One hundred sixty thousand people from industrialized nations participated in the assessments. Five thousand were Americans. If we compare our results to the other industrialized countries, we stink!
However, I don’t recommend dashing out to buy stronger air fresheners and deodorants. The participants in this study were very few compared to our global population of more than 7 billion. Even the 5,000 Americans were a tiny segment in our population of almost 317 million.
The nations with the highest ratings, Finland, Poland and South Korea, have much smaller populations and very different cultures than ours. We should study their schools to identify potential improvements. Nevertheless, what works there may not work here. Maybe we should stop worrying about other countries and develop our own reforms.
People in other countries are neither more nor less intelligent than we are. That is indisputable. Statistically, similar studies should yield similar results. Unfortunately, we could discuss those results from now until Judgment Day without agreement. Kind of like Congress, isn’t it?
We squander money on assessments, surveys, ability tests and achievement tests to discover what’s wrong with education, but they don’t tell us how to fix it. Fortunately we already know that! The fix won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be popular. We must teach our kids to accept their responsibility to learn. Permitting children to have their own way most of the time leads to disaster at school and at home. Unfortunately, some parents and teachers tolerate misbehavior instead of changing it.
I have never visited Finland, Poland or South Korea, but I have spent considerable time in German schools. German students usually accept their share of the responsibility to learn. The size of the share depends on their age and ability. In secondary schools German kids have more freedom and less supervision than their American counterparts. There are no study halls, shorter school days and a lot more homework.
We members of the Class of 1963 were among the first baby boomers. Every generation has a duty to pass its knowledge and skills to the next one. Because we are so many, boomers have acquired more new knowledge than prior generations. Hopefully, we have shared it well with those who follow us.
Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana principal and teacher. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.