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A Whole New World:
The Implementation of New Values within the
United States’ Educational System

Kelly L. Gleischman

As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” There are always moments in time where the established method becomes outdated; moments in time when it becomes clear that matters simply must change. In these moments, ordinary citizens, committed and caring individuals, have the potential to affect positive change. One such person was Rosa Parks, who, on December 1, 1955, felt that one of these times of change had come. Her refusal to give up a bus seat to a white man marked a true beginning in the Civil Rights Movement. People like Rosa Parks demonstrate the importance of citizens who can recognize those precise moments and act on them, changing society for the better. We must therefore prepare students who can be those identifiers, and who can think critically enough to improve a given situation. Consequently, when issues of a brand new nature arise, these students will have the ability to develop innovative and creative ways of facing them. Due to pressing global crises, the United States’ educational system must instill new values into students in order to develop creative and critical thinkers who can contribute to the United States’ involvement in tackling global issues.

The United States’ division on numerous national issues reflects a consistent movement of blind voting along partisan lines. While political parties were created to allow for dissenting opinions, in this day and age many American citizens do not even know what their own party represents, and consequently will vote for a member of their party without researching into what issues the implied politician stands for. As a result, the issues themselves lose the spotlight, as they are left unnoticed by the people they affect. Such an issue occurs in Congress as well. President Jimmy Carter remarks that currently in the “Washington scene…almost every issue [is] decided on a strictly partisan basis” (Carter 8)1. In general, Democratic and Republican Senators and Representatives agree almost unanimously with the members of their own party, causing a deep division to form between the two. This division was most apparent at the 2006 State of the Union address, where time after time the Republican side of the aisle would stand in ecstatic applause only to leave the left side of the aisle entirely in their seats. The split was visibly noticeable, showcasing the depth to which our country is divided today. One issue that parties face is that of diplomacy versus military action, where “among Republicans, the percentage endorsing diplomacy in preference to military action is minimal, while Democrats take the opposite point of view” (Carter 9)2. This issue relates directly to the problem of fighting against terrorism, where “two-thirds of Republicans believe that use of overwhelming force is best, while an even larger proportion of Democrats think that, although our armed forces should be used when our nation’s security is threatened, excessive use of military action tends to increase animosity against our country and breed more terrorists” (Carter 9-10)3. Other national issues include gay marriage, abortion, the death penalty, and science versus religion, to name a few. Topics such as these require that parties recognize their differences and work together to come up with the best solutions, even if they have very different ideas initially on how to best deal with the issue at hand. In actuality, opposing opinions on how to deal with particular problems are beneficial as long as the action that gets voted on and consequently put into motion is untainted by sole party line voting, bribery, and other such political corruption. If politicians truly agree with the side they are voting for, then a division is inevitable. However, this phenomenon of party line voting stems from a recently developed American mindset. In this country, an unwillingness to walk in another’s shoes, to see from another’s point of view, is a pressing problem. While disagreement is crucial, stubbornness is detrimental. Unfortunately, Americans tend to view people who change their minds, or “flip-flop,” as weak, or as unsure of themselves. While we certainly need our politicians to speak strongly and firmly about various issues, we also need politicians who can compromise in order to effectively deal with problems that arise. A collaborative effort includes the viewpoints of all parties involved, with a goal of creating the best possible end product or solution. If the United States is so deeply divided on matters of national importance, and cannot seem to work together collaboratively, how will nations around the world ever work together to discuss and take on pressing global issues?

This division that the United States is facing echoes a division that is occurring in the world, a division that cannot arise if global issues are to be faced. As a global power, the United States cannot afford to suffer this inner division. The world today is confronting numerous global issues such as AIDS, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and global warming, to name a few. In order to best deal with these issues, differences of opinion are absolutely vital, but so is the concept of compromise. The seriousness of these topics calls for immediacy: immediacy in working together, immediacy in learning about various viewpoints, and immediacy in action. Environmental statistics alone show the importance of such work, as “at current rates, we shall have depleted or destroyed most of the world’s remaining marine fisheries, depleted clean or cheap or readily accessible reserves of oil and natural gas, and approached the photosynthetic ceiling within a few decades” (Diamond 498)4. Not only will we deplete much of our world’s resources, but also “global warming is projected to have reached a degree Centigrade or more, and a sustainable fraction of the world’s wild animal and plant species are projected to be endangered or past the point of no return, within half a century” (Diamond 498)5. In a few decades, this is the world we will face if we do not act now, and act together.

The United States must be without hesitation in our commitment to helping resolve these problems, and cannot be sidetracked by the division occurring within our own walls. As one of the most prominent countries in the world, America needs to set an example for other countries. However, it will not be able to do so if it is dealing with too many problems of inner division.  In this world of global crises, it is important “that we accept multiple perspectives on world events and on the fragile interrelationship between the global economy and sustainable environments” (Bassett 78)6. These multiple perspectives will develop from people who have been educated in such a way as to encourage diversity of vision, and thus the educational system comes into play. It is absolutely imperative that schools “actively teach and model different systems for resolving conflict and more inclusive ways of living on this planet” (Hotchkiss 25)7. If students learn these concepts from the beginning of their education, our society will be better prepared to tackle some of the major issues we face currently. The educational world has “the possibility of creating an experiential paradigm that changes the way our graduates perceive their lives and the possibility of a collaborative, global co-existence” (Hotchkiss 25)8. It is only by living in this “collaborative, global co-existence” that we can truly take on international problems like AIDS, nuclear proliferation and global warming. In order to resolve such world issues, we need to give our future leaders the skills that are necessary to do so. Students need to be educated in globalism, so that they can better understand the world we live in. They need to understand the concept of a global community, so that the planet can live in harmony. We must change our educational system in order to do so, which means replacing the outdated values that are a reflection of pre-modern society with the new values that are necessary for such a global world.

Current American educational practices teach equality, a detrimental value to instill in the future leaders of the world. Equality by definition is the “quality or state of being…of the same measure, quantity, amount or number as another” (m-w.com)9. In other words, to treat two or more entities as equal means “regarding or affecting all objects in the same way”, ignoring the differences between the units (m-w.com)10. Presently, our educational practices implant this value into students using a variety of traditional teaching and learning methods.

One of the first ways the value of equality is instilled into students is through society’s definition of the term ‘normal’. In our dictionary definition of this word, one of the most interesting meanings is “occurring naturally” (Webster 783)11. Student’s brains work in entirely different ways; some students struggle with “motor implementation; they simply can’t assign the proper muscles consistently. Therefore, writing looms as a tormenting problem for them”, whereas other students “have trouble finding the exact words they need when they talk, difficulty remembering the associations between sounds and symbols when they read, or trouble understanding complex sentences and thereby following directions” (Levine 29)12. These shortcomings are “specific neurodevelopmental dysfunction[s] and in each instance the dysfunction is likely to interfere with learning” (Levine 29)13. Given these ‘natural’ learning differences, our defined state of normalcy should encompass all learning modalities, not merely the ones that are best for a majority of students. However, our current educational practices label children who do not learn in the dominant way of learning as ‘abnormal’, reinforcing the idea that learning in a different way is wrong. On a larger scale, by subconsciously teaching our students that they must conform to a particular learning norm, we emphasize the idea that our inherent unique differences are unimportant, and in reality these differences are what truly define us as individuals. Our definition of the word normal stresses the idea that treating everyone in the same way (regarding everyone ‘equally’) is right. 

A second way this value is implemented is by teaching students to learn in one form, usually by the standard method of instruction. Regardless of the style of teaching, however, the problem lies in attempting to teach all members of a class using one particular style. Any given individual has a wide array of strengths and weaknesses, and by examining the different functions of the brain, it becomes apparent how one method of teaching may benefit one student, but in fact be detrimental to a second. While minds are extremely complex, “all of the different neurodevelopmental functions can be sorted into eight manageable categories… [and they] are dependent on one another” (Levine 30)14. The eight include the attention control system, the memory system, the language system, the spatial ordering system, the sequential ordering system, the motor system, the higher thinking system, and the social thinking system. A student who has a weak attention control system may in fact struggle in a traditional lecture environment, as the “attention controls direct the distribution of mental energy within our brains, so that we have the wherewithal to finish what we start and stay alert throughout the day” (Levine 31)15. On the other hand, another student may have a harder time with her memory system than her peers do, which is disadvantageous in a classroom environment where the teacher measures success by memorization skills. Teaching classrooms in one particular style does not allow for our innate differences, and promotes the value of equality as our diversity is not accounted for.  

A third means the United States’ educational system uses to instill equality into the minds of students is an emphasis on well-roundedness. Currently students are taught a variety of subjects, and are expected to be well-versed in all. Expecting our students to all be excellent historians, mathematicians, scientists and writers is an expectation almost completely unreasonable due to the present studies that prove the existence of strengths and weaknesses among all of us. While school officials may say that they do not expect students to be excellent in all areas of studies, our society’s opinions suggest a different view. In this culture, colleges like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford are thought of as the ‘best of the best’—and getting into one of these top universities is thought of as the premier accomplishment by students. These views put direct pressure onto students to get into the aforementioned colleges, and consequently being ‘perfect’ in all areas of study becomes a goal. For example, 79% of Stanford’s admitted students in 2005 had a GPA of 4.0 or higher. Thus, students begin to receive a subconscious (or maybe even conscious) message that perfection is required in being admitted to these top schools. While being well-versed in a variety of subjects certainly is a plus for students who are capable of excellence in numerous areas, most people do not have notable talents in more than a couple of areas. And yet “a Core Knowledge model, with its implication of students as interchangeable receptacles into which knowledge is poured, has become the law of the land in many places” (Kohn 7)16. Unfortunately, schools of all levels hold graduation requirements that insist on certain standards that are to be met by all students, “standards [that] are not guidelines but mandates (to which teachers are supposed to “align” their instruction)” (Kohn 7)17. Requiring all students to demonstrate skills at every grade level allows selected students to excel and others to fail, whereas permitting students to demonstrate their own areas of strengths at times best suited to their development gives all students the opportunity for success. And so while teaching well-roundedness may seem beneficial, it actually proves to be detrimental in not allowing students to truly excel and focus in on their particular area(s) of strength. Well-roundedness operates under the assumption that we all have the potential to be equal in any given subject, and generally promotes this concept of equality.

A fourth way our educational system promotes equality is by teaching both genders in an identical manner. While certainly we all operate differently as individuals, members of each gender do generally learn in similar ways. Much research has been done on the differences between males and females, and has illustrated the vast variations in which boys and girls learn. In the classroom, “when it comes to intelligence based in space and place, boys…are active in their learning, oriented to body movement, and thus further self-stimulate their spatial abilities” (Gurian 53)18. Girls, on the other hand, have been found to not need as much bodily movement as boys do. This knowledge has vast implications for the classroom. Teaching in a learning environment of quiet listening may be best suited for females, but disadvantageous for males. And yet our educational system operates classrooms in one way, and teaches the boys and the girls in an identical manner. Consequently, “most of what children suffer in schools…is not bias…but instead a basic lack of understanding of innate gender differences. In other words, our teachers…simply do not have enough information to fully apply “ultimate” teaching to both girls and boys” (Gurian 57)19. Teaching the genders in an identical way again promotes this value of equality, as it ingrains in students’ minds the concept that our innate differences are to be ignored. In a world of equality, students suffer if their method of learning is opposite from the so-called ‘norm’. This value of equality that is being taught in our educational system through the aforementioned means is not beneficial to society, and will not help in raising leaders who can confront the global issues our world faces currently.

Unfortunately, the value of equality serves a negative purpose in tackling global problems. Conventional methods are not satisfactory, as “traditional multiple-choice tests, written reports, and grading systems may unfairly favor certain groups while discriminating against others” (Levine 276)20. ‘Traditional’ is the key word: while certain methods like the implanting of equality may have worked thus far, they will not any longer, especially not in an ever-changing world. One major problem of equality, of not recognizing individual needs, is that “when students are falsely accused of laziness, when problems are attributed glibly to poor attitudes, when children come to believe that they were “born to fail,” the result is a population of functionally crippled individuals” (Levine 272)21. These are serious implications of misunderstanding a child and how that child’s mind works. If we continue to teach children in an identical manner, without really understanding how each child learns best, problems that require different visions will never be solved, as our children will have been taught to stifle their unique thought processes. We have scientifically proven that we do not all learn in one way, and this knowledge “must lead us to the firm conclusion that we cannot impose the identical requirements for learning on all children…We must resist uniform tests of competency, rigid graduation requirements, and unyielding educational standards” (Levine 273)22. If we keep these identical requirements, our society will pay for it in the long run. Our world will be filled with mislabeled citizens, all of whom have the potential to contribute greatly to society in one way or another. We must not impose identical standards on children, and we must not teach kids that only one way of thinking and viewing is right. Look at the United States today: our country was founded by people of all backgrounds, people who wanted to escape the rigidity of one-way thinking. This country is diverse, a true melting pot of people from all areas of the world. Ironically, it is the United States who is forcing our way of thinking upon numerous societies around the world today. Not that our way of thinking is bad; the democratic values that the United States embraces could be very well needed in some countries. But our method of implementation, our method of ‘our way or the highway,’ contradicts all that we should stand for. This kind of issue is precisely why our students need to be taught to value all different ways of thinking and seeing the world, so that we as a strong nation can see how to best help some of the nations that need helping. 

Rather than instilling the value of equality into students’ minds, the United States’ educational system should implant the value of equity. Equity by definition “speaks to and references fairness and social justness; it requires that the distribution of social resources be sufficient to the condition that is being treated” (Gordon 363)23. While the difference between equality and equity may seem ever so slight, that distinction is of utmost importance. Equitable treatment refers to the handling of each subject in a way that is best suited for him/her individually, in order to better develop a student’s personal sense of identity. Our educational system must learn how to infuse this value into schools, and this can be done in several ways.

The first action that must be taken in instilling equity into a school’s education is the redefinition of the term ‘normal.’ As previously mentioned this word as currently defined connotes equality and is detrimental in developing creative and critical thinkers. Unfortunately, the terms ‘different’ and ‘normal’ have positive and negative undertones presently. Society will need to come to the realization that “being different is not synonymous with being abnormal or psychopathological”, and while understanding each student’s individual neurodevelopmental strengths and weaknesses is absolutely imperative, “it is hazardous to employ a label [such as ADD or ADHD] with such frequency and intensity that it becomes an integral part of the child’s personal identity” (Levine 273)24. These labels do not allow students to recognize that differences in learning are acceptable in the education world.

A second action that the United States’ educational system can take to promote equity is absolutely imperative: all parties involved must become educated about proven neurodevelopmental variations in order to create environments that are appropriate for each student independently. First, educators need to understand how each child in his/her classroom learns: on strengths, weaknesses, and areas in between. Teachers play a vital role in this process of equity, and they “should be adept content analysts, probing the ways in which their subject matter draws on particular sets of neurodevelopmental functions—or, in the case of some students, fails to do so” (Levine 309)25. Schools Attuned, a program started by Dr. Mel Levine, attunes teachers to all of the various learning differences that exist, and helps educators focus on how they can better teach with this knowledge. The information teachers learn must be incorporated into all aspects of schooling, in order to help all students work on difficulties and utilize assets. It is absolutely imperative that teachers understand the learning differences that exist if they are going to teach in a way that is conducive to every student. In this same vein, “every child should benefit from an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that emphasizes her or his developmental strengths and their utilization to foster success” (Levine 274)26. In this way educators can better learn who students are as individuals and can consequently understand what strengths they have to offer when working in teams. The creation of IEP’s can help schools redefine and broaden educational requirements, as the incorporation of this plan into classroom life will require that the measurement of success expand, depending on each individual student.  Also, as mentioned previously, teaching genders in the same manner enforces the value of equality. By attuning themselves to differences in the ways members of the opposite sex learn, educators can create a more equitable learning environment in the classroom. Some dissenters may argue that teaching to the separate genders will result in an inferior education for one or both. However, studies done on single-sex education (SS) versus coeducational education (CE) have proven the academic benefits for each sex in single-sex schools. One study done by Lee and Bryk of 1,807 students in 1990 found that “Girls at SS schools did more homework and enrolled in more math classes, and SS boys enrolled in more math and science courses, than did their counterparts in CE schools” (Mael 107)27. In another important study of 3,638 students in Australia in 1990 done by Young & Fraser “in which students were matched on socioeconomic status, thereby controlling for preexisting differences, both males and females performed better academically at SS schools” (Mael 108)28. This study of students who were matched in economic status showed that separating the genders to teach more specifically to each benefited both sexes. Thus, neither gender receives an inferior education; rather, both receive a greater one. In fact, one can go even further to say that coeducational classrooms promote inequities. One study done by Eccles in 1987 shows that “females perform better in math in “female-friendly” classrooms…[and] it is likely that “female-friendly” classrooms are achieved most easily by limiting the classroom to females” (Mael 113)29. However, regardless of whether the classroom is single-sex or coeducational, a teacher’s attunement and consequently response to gender differences does positively affect the classroom learning environment. While it is vital for teachers to fully attune themselves to the way students’ minds work, it is equally important for the students themselves to know their individual capabilities. Thus, a second step that must be taken in the education of differences is the ‘demystification’ of students. ‘Demystification’, a process that lets each child know what his/her strengths and weaknesses are, is important as it usually “inspire[s] a student to work on her weak links rather than resign herself to mathematical failure” (Levine 310)30. Not only is the demystification process beneficial for a student in terms of weakness, but it also allows a student to appreciate his/her strengths. Every person needs to be made to feel as if she is important and as if she has something that she can contribute to society. Developing a child’s affinities allows students to recognize exactly what they have to offer, and “in the best of all possible worlds, affinities are fed so that they can develop into passions and those passions also become zones of expertise” (Levine 285)31. Teaching students to value both their strengths and weaknesses, especially through the attunement of educators and the process of demystification, allows the value of equity to be taught in schools.

Implanting this value of equity into students is important as it develops creative thinkers who can contribute individual and unique opinions when dealing with oncoming global crises. Treating two people equally implies ignoring the unique characteristics that make those two human beings precisely who they are. On the other hand, treating two people equitably encourages recognizing the differences of the two and learning how to best help them with their weaknesses while celebrating each of their strengths. We cannot ignore the differences that permeate our world. Instead, we must celebrate those differences, understanding that with them come a variety of strengths, strengths that can help every nation as well as the world as a whole deal with important issues. If Person ‘A’ loves learning about history, his/her knowledge of past conflicts and how they were dealt with can greatly affect the way present disputes are handled. Person ‘B’s study of statistics may help us better understand the dynamics of population as well as future trends in population growth. Person C’s passion to become a biologist could lead to the discovery of new species as well as to the knowledge of the potentiality of a particular species’ extinction. Allowing students to delve into subject matters that interest them will lead to a greater willingness on the part of students to find a particular area they can contribute to. Understanding is key, and “if our efforts can support genuine friendship and understanding across lines of race, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomics, our graduates will function more effectively in the diverse adult world and perhaps bring new tolerance and possibilities” (Hotchkiss 22)32. Equitable treatment establishes a new sense of tolerance as it ingrains the idea that differences are to be valued in all students’ minds. Nowadays, there must be “considerable interest in cooperative learning and working, activities in which children team up with peers who have different strengths and weaknesses from their own in order to accomplish specific activities” (Levine 276)33. If a child understands that he has a particular weakness, but knows that his friend might excel at that same task, he must understand that working together will accomplish the goal to the best of both of their abilities. Students can learn to work together from the beginning of their education if they are taught that they have specific areas that they are good at and vice versa. In the same line of thinking, our world benefits by people who work in the areas of their strengths. Knowing that society would benefit greatly from the encouragement of diversity and the permeation of equity as a value into the education system, “it is essential that we understand and agree that concern for diversity, pluralism, and equity rests upon a commitment to universal standards of competence” (Gordon 370)34. A universal standard ensuring the ability of all individuals to develop to the best of their aptitudes would guarantee competence. This standard must be held by all nations in order to reach the full potential of a world built on the values of equity and diversity. And with this value of equity ingrained in students’ minds, global issues like the ones currently plaguing our world can be faced.

Another value disadvantageous to the development of creative and critical thinkers is the value of complacency.  Complacency by definition is “self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies” (m-w.com)35. Students who learn complacency learn to be satisfied with what currently exists, and with society’s current state. This value is presently taught in the United States’ educational system in the following ways.

Emphasizing breadth of knowledge stresses this value of complacency as the memorization of minute facts and detailed lists does not promote active learning. Currently, the educational system “is caught up in the didactic paradigm, in which demonstration and transfer of knowledge and skill are the dominant modalities” (Gordon 367)36. This transfer of knowledge system allows students to sit back and be ‘filled,’ in a sense, as the learning process becomes an entirely separate entity. In an atmosphere requiring the knowledge of a vast amount of material, students do not learn how to actively use their brains in a thinking process; rather they learn to utilize only the part of the brain that allows them instant recall for tests and quizzes. Unfortunately this material is then rendered almost completely useless, due to the way in which it was taught and consequently learned. Knowing a vast amount of information takes “time away from more meaningful objectives, such as knowing how to think” (Kohn 5)37. The conventional prototype of schooling, with “a fact-transmission kind of instruction that is the very antithesis of ‘student-centered’” allows students to be passive, complacent learners (Kohn 8)38. This kind of instruction teaches students that they are separate from what they study; it teaches them that they are separate from learning, and separate from education.  

Society’s emphasis on standardized tests also promotes the value of complacency in the educational system. The testing obsession in this society has grown, and currently students are being tested at increasingly younger ages. Not only do “standardized-test scores often measure superficial thinking”, but also students “are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in our history and unparalleled anywhere else in the world” (Kohn 54-55)39. Presently, one of the major problems with standardized tests is the degree to which they matter in the making of important decisions. High school students applying to college now spend countless hours taking diagnostics, memorizing vocabulary words, and doing math problems with a private tutor. Tutors sometimes guarantee up to a two hundred point increase in scores, and in a world where the word ‘Yale’ is almost synonymous with a perfect score on the SAT’s, many parents are willing to spend thousands of extra dollars on tutoring. Tutors always have a list of precise strategies to use, and thus these tests become meaningless in the sense that they test no real knowledge; instead, they test a student’s ability to sit through a four hour exam while remembering when to use the ‘pick and choose’ method over the ‘plug in’ method. A study done in 1995 tested students who used three different approaches to learning: a surface approach, a deep approach, and an achieving approach. The surface approach dealt with a very minimal involvement by students, and primarily involved memorization. The deep approach dealt with a “genuine desire to understand and a penchant for connecting current lessons with previous knowledge” and the achieving approach concerned only the performance. In this study, “SAT scores turned out to be significantly correlated with both the surface and achieving approaches, but not at all with the deep approach” (Kohn 67)40. These tests actually respond to the deep approach, the approach that develops the most creative and critical thinkers, with the lowest increase in scores. And while so many important decisions like getting into school are made based on standardized tests, “virtually all relevant experts and organizations condemn the practice of basing important decisions…on the results of a single test” (Kohn 55)41. Another important fact to note about current standardized tests is that these “norm-referenced tests were never intended to measure the quality of learning or teaching. The Stanford, Metropolitan, and California Achievement Tests (SAT, MAT, and CAT), as well as the Iowa and Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS and CTBS), are designed so that only about half the test-takers will respond correctly to most items. The main objective of these tests is to rank, not to rate; to spread out the scores, not to gauge the quality of a given student or school” (Kohn 54-55)42. Another major issue with current standardized testing is that such testing has been found to take away from other key aspects of education. A Milwaukee teacher commented that “frequent testing of her students means they can no longer contribute to a Thanksgiving dinner for homeless people or prepare games for cancer patients at a children’s hospital” (Kohn 63)43. Another New York City teacher who was “compelled to use a heavily scripted program called “Success for All,” was asked whether she was still allowing her students to read books of their own choosing. She replied: “We haven’t been doing any reading since we started preparing the kids for the reading test” (Kohn 63)44. Scenarios like these ones demonstrate when the standardized testing craze goes a step too far. When other arguably more important aspects of education are forced to the back burner, standardized testing becomes even more of an issue. Current standardized testing teaches students that success comes not from active learning, but from the memorization of formulas, methods, and facts. This system promotes complacency within students, and does not encourage the kind of activism that is necessary in dealing with global issues. One major problem in the standardized testing world is the extent to which businesses are invested. An example of such corruption is that of Standard & Poors, which is a financial rating service. This company has offered to “evaluate and publish the performance, based largely on test scores, of every school district in a given state” and Michigan and Pennsylvania each purchased this service for 10 million dollars. The results of the reports “concern whether this district is doing better than that one. But the tacit message…is that test scores are a useful and appropriate marker for school quality…[and] it turns out that Standard & Poors is owned by McGraw-Hill, one of the largest manufacturers of standardized tests” (Kohn 11)45. McGraw-Hill wants the message to get out that standardized testing is a great way to measure success, all because this would benefit them financially. The problem is that “when business thinks about schools, its agenda is driven by what will maximize its profitability, not necessarily by what is in the best interest of students” (Kohn 22)46. Business’ involvement in education is problematic because businesses have a vested interest - companies are not interested in what is the most beneficial for students; rather they are concerned primarily with profit. Also, in districts that do not score highly, many schools “feel compelled to purchase heavily scripted curriculum programs designed to raise scores, programs such as Open Court or Reading Mastery” (Kohn 12)47. Interestingly enough, McGraw-Hill owns both of these programs. Even more astonishingly, business is involved in the policy-making level of education. One such example is Charlotte K. Frank, who “joined the state of New York’s top education policymaking panel, the Board of Regents” (Kohn 12)48. Shockingly, she is a vice president at McGraw-Hill. And even in the media, where there was a “strong statement of support for test-based accountability in a Business Week cover story about education published in March 2001” (Kohn 12)49. McGraw-Hill owns Business Week. These companies and people do not have students’ best interest in heart. Rather, they are advocating an educational approach that teaches complacency, an approach that does not help students to truly succeed.  Of course, businesses would disagree - many would say that their goals are exactly the same as educators. Unfortunately, if this were actually the case, “we would see cutting-edge companies taking the lead in demanding a constructivist approach to instruction, where students’ questions drive the curriculum…they would complain loudly about the practices that undermine collaboration…[such as] norm-referenced tests” (Kohn 23)50. Companies who state that they have the same goal as educators are wrong: they do not. These businesses who involve themselves in the education world, businesses like McGraw-Hill, are only thinking about their own financial status. This corruption is a problem when attempting to raise citizens who can function and prosper in a rapidly changing world.

Instilling complacency in students is not beneficial in an increasingly global world. With the direction the world is moving in today, the traditional methods are proving to be outdated. Our standards by which we measure success are not effective standards anymore as we are not producing citizens with a ‘global mindset.’ In the business world, “‘today’s high-performance job market requires graduates to be proficient in such cross-functional skills and attributes as leadership, teamwork, problem solving, and communication,’ as well as time management, self-management, adaptability, analytical thinking, and global consciousness” (Business-Higher Education Forum as qtd in Bassett 77)51. Memorization of countless facts and an emphasis on standardized testing do not prepare students adequately for a business world that requires creativity and critical thinking. The SAT’s in no way inspire leadership; memorizing the precise dates explorers roamed the seas does not teach analytical thinking. These outdated methods which inspire complacency do not give students the tools they need to contribute fully to the present international society.

            Rather than instill the value of complacency, the United States’ educational system should teach students how to participate actively. Active by definition means “characterized by action rather than by contemplation or speculation” (m-w.com)52. Active implies involvement and participation, whereas passive is “tending not to take an active or dominant part” (m-w.com)53. Current educational practices should emphasize active learning, and can do so in several ways.  

            Emphasizing depth over breadth is a key means for teaching activism. Depth in a classroom involves discussions, analytical thinking, and critical thinking: all important in raising a successful international citizen. One particular mode of depth relates to depth of experience: the educational system’s ability to ‘reach’ individual students. Nowadays, we know that “modern cognitive science represents learning as a process by which learners selectively experience elements of their own worlds, conceptualize and assimilate symbols and relationships, and ultimately construct their own knowledge and its meanings” (Gordon 367)54. The student and the learning process are interrelated, as opposed to the divide that occurs from a traditional transfer of information format. Conceptually, activism results from a genuine connection to that which is being learned. In other words, active learning should develop students’ abilities “to interpret critically, understand from more than a single perspective, and apply one’s intellect to the solution of the novel as well as practical life problems” (Gordon 367)55. Depth of experience involves the percent to which the learning process relates to each student individually: how much educational practices can hold the attention and interests of a diverse group of students. Going into this depth allows each student to connect with the material in a unique and personal way. Depth of knowledge is also important in promoting activism. All students “should be helped to find a unique topic or field of interest and encouraged in its study over the years…Parents and teachers should help them renew or redefine this periodically throughout their educational careers” (Levine 274)56. Some dissenters might protest with the view that requiring students to be versed in a variety of subjects is necessary as taking away those requirements would limit students and consequently the nation. However, a group of people, each fully versed in an area of their own choosing, is much more practical than another group of people, each with a moderate amount of knowledge in all three subjects. The key is to introduce students to various subjects early on, so that they can develop affinities and interests over the course of their schooling. Students should first be exposed to various topics, and, thus armed with knowledge of their individual strengths and weaknesses, can choose to continue learning in areas of interest to them. Students would not be limited at all; rather, they would be able to pick and even combine topics that interest them the most, thus becoming very skilled in areas of their own choosing. Teachers also must “commonly collaborate to offer interdisciplinary courses that students play an active role in designing” (Kohn 8)57. Interdisciplinary classes are absolutely vital: people with different subject interests must learn how two seemingly opposite topics can be best looked at from another perspective. If all people became well-versed in various subject areas, a community would become fully equipped with a group of people who could work together on any given area of crisis. Also, just as Dr. Levine suggested, parents and teachers should play an active role in helping students to redefine their picked areas of interest over the years in school. This periodical renewal allows students to bring in new fields of attraction and adds to the depth of their already chosen affinities. And so while it may at first appear that the United States would fall behind if the educational system concentrated on depth of knowledge, in reality, society would benefit in the long run from the addition of multiple, intelligent perspectives. This depth of knowledge would further encourage active participation in learning as the focus on critical thinking and application almost mandates an active mindset.

            Another way the United States’ educational system can promote activism is through the reevaluation of standardized testing. Standardized testing does serve a purpose, but currently these tests are attempting to serve a purpose that they cannot serve. Standardized testing is useful “in the selection of persons who meet certain criteria under certain specified conditions [and] so long as test items mirror those competencies that are privileged in test takers’ learning situations as well as those in their work or subsequent learning situations, standardized tests are excellent instruments for predicting future functioning” (Gordon 364)58. These tests are effective when attempting to find people who have specific skills, as long as “the criteria of eligibility are narrowly drawn”, meaning as long as the tests are being used to measure a precise ability (Gordon 364)59. However, standardized tests have moved away from those guidelines recently. The problem lies when “the criteria become more diffused and the indicators of competence become more diverse, when the frames of reference for the persons being tested diverge, that standardized tests become problematic, their validity in selection weakened, and the reliability of their predictions lessened” (Gordon 364)60. Unfortunately, the standardized testing world has grown to an absurd level in the United States, and the tests are no longer accurate predictors of success. Redefining and evaluating the tests, however, is a very possible goal and one that must be accomplished in order to further promote active learning. Updated tests must focus on “(a) adaptation to new learning situations; (b) problem solving in situations that require varied cognitive skills and styles; (c) analysis, search, and synthesis behaviors; [and] (d) information management, processing, and utilization skills” (Gordon 366)61. All of these aspects deal with important skills necessary in a working world, skills that encourage an active style of learning, especially through analysis and problem solving.  Also important in the reevaluation of standardized testing is the procedures in which students are tested. These procedures should look at “(a) comprehension through experiences, listening, and looking as well as reading; (b) expression through artistic, oral, non verbal, and graphic as well as written symbolization; (c) characteristics of temperament; (d) sources and status of motivation; and (e) habits of work and task involvement under varying conditions of demand” (Gordon 366)62. These measurements are just as important as the actual content of the tests. By teaching and measuring success in all of these different ways, like artistic expression and oral expression, students are able to demonstrate abilities applicable and relevant to society. Testing procedures that pay attention to temperament and to work habits “under varying conditions of demand” truly look at how a student responds to various situations, and the outcomes of such measurements depict the best environments for certain students to work in. Tests that are designed to look at specific accomplishments should focus on “(a) broadening the varieties of subject matter, competencies, and skills assessed; (b) examining these achievements in a variety of contexts; (c) making open-ended and unstructured probes of achievement to allow for the assessment of atypical patterns and varieties of achievement; and (d) assessing nonacademic achievements such as social competence as well as coping, avocational, artistic, athletic, political, and mechanical skills” (Gordon 366)63. The refinement of this particular kind of standardized test is crucial as it shows exactly how broad achievements can be, and how current testing is far too limited to show true potential for success. Redefining and evaluating these tests as suggested will further promote a sense of activism and students will become more fully immersed in the learning process. Currently students view their lives and their schooling as almost separate entities, and by joining the two pieces back together, students will develop a more committed and dynamic attitude towards learning.

Promoting this sense of activism in students contributes greatly to the ability of the world to tackle these global issues. Students at one particular school stood up together to petition to have an aspect about the school changed. They organized debates, voting, and discussions in which all parties could voice their opinions. In education, just like in the world, “the discussion and the action on such matters (and not the particular resolution) are what are critical to the moral development of students and the community” (Mosher 48)64. The resolution is not the most important thing. The fact that students stood up for what they believed in, took a stance, and took action demonstrates the goal of active learning. Our society needs people who are willing to stand up to be heard, and this is exactly what our schools need to foster. However, rules do still exist, and must exist in a school community. One of the problems teachers face is “getting children to accept a fixed body of rules in such a way that they are [not] incapacitated from adopting a critical or autonomous attitude toward them” (Mosher 46)65. Rules are necessary to a functioning society, and so always fighting against the establishment is not useful. The trick is to teach children to follow particular rules, but also to think critically of them. It is a fine line to walk, but neither extreme is beneficial to society. Global issues are faced best by people who recognize limits while knowing when to push them.

            A few opponents feel that opening students to differences creates a negative isolation. These critics “regard curricula that sensitize students to difference as divisive, indeed as potential threats to the social glue that holds a democratic society together” (Fine 9)66. However, differences exist whether humans acknowledge them or not. Teaching students that their differences are not to be talked about actually creates a harsher isolation, as the students are subconsciously taught that in some way they themselves are ‘wrong’, or deviant. Discussing the differences and teaching to them holds a democratic society together even more strongly, as citizens come to recognize that every person is unique in some way, and that variations are acceptable. Other dissenters take the view that the United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world right now, and as such it does not need to change how it has been educating its youth. This way of thinking is extremely close-minded, and does not look at current trends, especially with China. China’s methods of improvement could be argued as either good or bad, but regardless of how one views them, they are a definite reality. China’s rise in power is due mainly to its focus on the country’s benefit as a whole rather than on what is best for individuals. Presently, China pays its labor force extremely low wages, which allows them to build infrastructure much more cheaply. Rather than be concerned with paying its workers fairly, China is focused on improving the quality of the country. The United States was first built on the hands of underpaid immigrant workers: the railroads, dams and other such infrastructure that allowed the country to really rise were built by cheap labor. In 1862, “for seven years, Chinese and Irish immigrants, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and others did the backbreaking labor” on the first transcontinental railroad (Beck 292)67. Paying these workers low wages was what allowed the United States to grow. This phenomenon is what is currently occurring in China. Their willingness to have cheap labor allows them to grow rapidly. The United States, on the other hand, faces a conundrum as it deals with the “fairness” aspect: whether it has an obligation to pay workers a certain amount of money. China also has many state-run or government-run elements to its economy, which gives them certain competitive advantages. For instance, China recently purchased a highly modern automobile plant in South America, and is deconstructing it to bring it to a city in China. The government is going to use that particular plant to make the city grow. In this sense, the government is very involved in the business sector, and any individual companies will always have trouble competing against a state. For example, one of the biggest businesses in China is the military.  The military can (and does) order individuals to do something and those individuals are made to do it. If China wishes to flood an entire area to build a dam, they simply order the people who live in that area to move: there is no choice involved. ‘Eminent domain’ is the power of a state to determine that property owned privately can be taken over by the government for state use. China’s sense of eminent domain is far greater than that of the United States’. Consequently, more gets done for the country’s benefit, improving the country as a whole. Hence, China’s growth does demonstrate that the United States will not always be one of the most powerful nations in the world, and shows that this narrow-minded way of thinking is potentially detrimental to the state of America. Also, some opponents of changing the way the educational system works say that doing such will cost us progress in any given subject level. Yet emphasizing the depth that comes with promoting activism will allow different students to be exceptionally well-versed in particular subject areas. Every student will not have a background in all subjects, but different students will be extraordinarily capable in their own selected areas of interest. An individual who is excellent in one or two different areas is far more beneficial to society than an individual who is equipped with a small amount of knowledge in each subject. Also, dissenters might point out that today’s world calls for people who are prepared in multiple areas. These people would say that “we live in a world that places multiple and concurrent demands upon our competencies. More and more, all of us are called upon to function in multiple contexts, cultures, and languages” (Gordon 361)68. Yet demanding students to memorize lists of facts and to be able to instantly recall minute dates and trivial points does not allow students to be functional in today’s world. These multiple demands can be met by encouraging students to dive deeply into an area of interest, and by encouraging students to work together when problem-solving to best utilize their abilities. These dissenters are correct: this world does require citizens who can function in a variety of contexts. But they are not correct in thinking that the way the educational system exists now is appropriate to meet that goal. We must reform the system in order to teach students how to live with the complexities of the international community, by promoting the aforementioned values in lieu of the outdated ones. Many opponents also point out that in the education world, too many reforms are implemented only to be decided a few years later that they do not work. They believe it is not worth the time and money to make these kinds of changes. This fact is true; educational reforms have been implemented only to be seen a few years later as detrimental or merely ineffective. However, this is simply the nature of education. In an ever-changing world, reforms do need to be made rather frequently. This reform, a reform that deals with the core nature of education and the question of how to best educate students, is essential to the United States’ growth and also to the world’s development as a whole. The actual concrete reforms that occur must be fully aligned with this value reform in order to prove successful. Despite what critics might say, promoting values in the educational system that are beneficial when confronting some of today’s most pressing global problems is absolutely vital to both the United States’ survival as a dominant power and to the world’s capability to deal with burning issues.

            Taking action is imperative. No longer can “young men of privilege…have the luxury of sitting around in pajamas discussing the theoretical realities of the world…the sheer number of human beings living on the planet requires active participation from everyone in shaping and responding to those realities” (Hotchkiss 20)69. Citizens cannot sit back any longer; the nature of these problems calls for immediacy in action, action that must occur in the educational system. The United States must adequately prepare students to deal with the global nature of the world as not doing so is “both a disservice to them and a threat to our national wellbeing” (Bassett 83)70. It is time that we realized the importance of education, and that the students we are educating are the future leaders of the world. We must also recognize that the “goal of education is more education…[and] to be well educated…is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends” (Kohn 10)71. We must foster that desire in students: we must promote the values of active learning and equity so that the United States can lead the way in tackling the numerous issues that our international community faces currently.

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