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Schools Out of the 20th Century

American public school is failing. They “aren’t exactly frozen in time,” but it is repeating its own history where elementary education was focused on reading, test scores, math, and closing the achievement gap between social classes. Time seems to stay still as “our public schools tend to feel like throwbacks”, said the author.

While the question is about whether “an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad” ones, public advocacy proposes, through No Child Left Behind, that American elementary education system should be brought to par to other country’s education system – because American children are global citizens and must think, act, and perform academically as children of other countries such as the Singaporean children.

My question is can we equate American children’s biological structure, psychology, cognitive behavior and development, physical stamina, intellectual, mental development, psychosocial development, and other attributes to those of the children in other part of the world just because they are part of global citizens? In the Times’ article, Jeffery Beard, Director General of the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva said, “We try to build something we call international mindness… these are students who can grasp issues across national borders.

They have an understanding of nuances and complexity and a balanced approach to problem solving. ” On one side, it seems like “on the edge” to adopt this statement as the aim of elementary public education. For once, the age level of the audience in this situation is different. On the other side, educating elementary students in business like manner – going global – is similar to dump them into the open water and expect them to swim to the land without teaching them about the water and its current, the position of the sun and the moon, how to read the star and the formation of the clouds, and the direction of the wind.

If businesses fail in the global world, what make us so sure that these children would be successful? Roy Pea, co-director of the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning, in the same article, wants to equalize American children to those of the Singaporean in many aspects. But can one change the skin color or the Ethiopian? Or may be, as the teachers at Henry Ford Academy are aiming for, it is giving a depth of knowledge and encourage the elementary students to improve their ability to leap across disciplines.

Like their seniors in business and profit sectors and public sector, they become hybrid children. Never mind about the genius. Can we create hybrid children with hybrid ability? We seem to be under the spell of “globalization. ” Businesses are going global, the nonprofits are going global, and governments are going global and now we want elementary children to, also, going global. We want our children to become like those of the Chinese or the Singaporean because, according to Professor Phillip Rushton, the author of Race, Evolution and Behavior, they are smarter.

Is it possible to educate American children the way the Chinese educate their children? Even among American children, not everyone was born with the same attributes and not everyone would be able to receive the same method of education. Human rights issues are highly emotional, stressful and political and too complex for the elementary students to comprehend. In the same book, Professor Rushton said that race or ethnic backgrounds determines a person’s characteristics, behavior, ways of learning, cognitive ability, psychological needs, perspective, emotions, mentality, and intelligence.

Each race also has different cultures, different traditions, and different religion. Children were brought up with different set of morals, values, norms, and standards. All these influence how parents educate their children and the way public school system is set. Like the case of an individual, the more we like to equate ourselves with someone else, the more we lose our own personality. Regions and countries are also different and we cannot equate them in terms of educating our children.

The education system of the Chinese or the Singaporean is different from that of American because it is determined by all these factors, including the political culture and the state system. Besides the above differences, children also have different personalities. Even a set of twins has different personalities and different abilities to learn things and solve problems. Buskit and Gerbing (1990) that experiences and habits bear a direct and profound influence on a child’s later life. Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development indicates that as children grow, they go through progressive intellectual changes to understand the world.

Buskit and Gerbing (1990) stated, “Piaget believed that children form schemes, or organized mental representations of the world based on their experience and that these schemes function as the basis for understanding current and future experiences … integration of schemes helps children adapt to the environment” (382). America’s public elementary system is failing not because the system aim is too low, but because we have neglected to educate children in the basis of true education. We want them to quickly ripe or mature sexually and mentally before their age.

It is similar to induce hens to lay eggs through a machine. We want to induce children to advance ahead of their time while at the same time we give them drug to prevent them from getting infected from different contagious diseases such as AIDS or sexual transmitted diseases. Or we give them HPV vaccine to prevent them from getting sexually active or Ritalin to prevent them to becoming hyperactive. We want them to leap across the boundary but we are actually teaching them to be focus oriented. Even in the working environment, everything is focus oriented.

Yet we want the children to go global and learn in a global environment. Will they be successful in the global setting? Children go through four periods of development, described Piaget. They are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational (11 years upward). At formal operational stage, children “first become capable of more formal kinds of thinking involving abstract concepts… They can now think and reason about hypothetical objects and events (Ibid, 1990, 287). The system is failing because “Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range” (White, Education).

The children are not given the tools and strong foundations to build their knowledge and skills, to become broad minded, and to fill their mind with things that bring good report, have virtues and values, and bring praise. Rather the children are quickly demanded to become mature before their age and swim in the global field without knowing how to swim. Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral development explains that children go through seven stages of moral development where they learn to develop perceptions and acts regarding right and wrong.

Erickson adds that they also go through psychological development in which their development proceeds according to “biological factors that exert their influences at critical points during the individual maturation” (Ibid, 391). Then they have to go through another process of social development and adolescence which will determine how they would be successful in this world. From babyhood through the wonder years, we can shape children’s behavior. It is dangerous if we want them to leap into the global setting if they themselves do not understand the value of their nationalism.

Never mind about nationalism, how about their identity? Thomas Jefferson or Fanny Jackson are successful without changing their identity to become like the Chinese. One best solution to the No Child Left Behind is not quickly dumping the children into global setting but to revisit principles and values of true education. According to Ellen White, “There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is.

It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come” (White, Education, 14).


Buskit, William & Gerbing, David W. (1990). Psychology: Boundaries and Frontiers. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Holmes, Mark. Common Schools for a Secularist Society. Warkworth, Ontario. Retrieved February 15, 2007

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