We’re teaching our kids wrong: Steve Jobs and Bill Gates do not have the answers
Between 1848, when Andrew Carnegie arrived in Pennsylvania, and 1983, when “A Nation at Risk” was published, schools had made a 180-degree turn. No longer a privilege and a respite from work, formal education had become a necessity, considered essential to individual success. What had once been a luxury for those who could afford enlightenment was, by the second half of the twentieth century, a requirement for anyone who hoped to get a job and earn a decent wage. Schools were no longer a path to cultivation and a life of the mind; they were a path to a job. And that was just in terms of the individual. Along the way, as schools became a training ground for corps of workers, they also became a means of furthering national interests. The debate about schools had become part of the debate about national power. Which brings us to the twenty-first century.
When George W. Bush announced No Child Left Behind (NCLB), his purported intention was to encourage a set of practices and institute a set of assessments that would ensure every child got the same good start at school. Implicit in that formulation was the now familiar premise that it was up to schools to close the income gap between the rich and the poor. In its most beneficent form, it could have made a powerful difference in the lives of many children. If NCLB had ensured that all kids would learn how to read and that no child would become disenchanted enough to drop out, it might have been wonderful. But that’s not how NCLB played out.
Within just a few years, teachers were rushing to make sure that each child got a higher score on the standardized tests than he or she had gotten the year before. School superintendents also felt compelled to see to it that their schools got higher scores every year. What had been promoted as a means of ensuring that all children received the fruits of our educational system became a relentless push toward improved test scores. With each year, more and more focus was on the scores themselves and less on the education the scores were intended to measure. At the national level, politicians threatened that if we didn’t educate everyone, once again our country might fall behind. The conversation was less about giving everyone access to reading, thoughtful engagement in civic life, or the pleasures of ideas, and much more about seeing to it that everyone could earn a decent wage.
Excerpted from “The End of the Rainbow: How Educating for Happiness (Not Money) Would Transform Our Schools”