Normally I don’t comment on things happening in a country I don’t live in. But this time I will make an exception.
Waiting for Superman pointed out the crisis in education. But the solution it offered is plainly wrong.
Standard test is not the solution. The test score cannot tell you much about a person. If I am an employer interviewing a job applicant, his high test score only tells me that he is able to control himself and is able to budget his time well and follow a plan through. Can a poor test score imply the person is unable to control himself? It is very debatable, however. I have childhood friends who are not good with school tests, but later proved themselves very able to concentrate on things that really interested them once they got into society. And a person with high testing score is also quite likely a person who has lost the flexibility and richness of mind, the curiosity and most importantly the ability to learn and analyze. If I have a factory that is mass producing something like toys and I need a lot of workers and team leaders to carry out the production, only looking at the applicants’ test score might be enough for me. But if I run an Internet company that is providing some service in this ever-changing environment, I need to find out a lot more about the candidates. Self-control is important. But I also need to know whether they are able to think independently faced with an unknown world, know how to analyze, and how to untangle the myth, and offer solutions in steps. I need to know if the candidate has a sound judgment of people and whether he has a good understanding of the world. School test scores tell me too little of these qualities.
Mass production area needs a lot of people who can be disciplined and follow existing commands in a confined environment. So modern schools come into being. But what the mass production needs and what you need are two different things. Your education is totally a different thing from schooling. You don’t have to turn yourselves into a dumb command follower to find a job in the factory. You can have your own factory if you can really “educate” yourself. Or your kid can own his own factory if he can get real education. That is how parents should tell their kids instead of instructing them to get good test scores so they can be workers in factories and lose their happiness of life.
But luckily computer software and internet are changing everything. Because of software and internet, the production becomes easier. The barrier of production is much lower. And because it is much easier to find market through internet, there is less need for mass market and mass production. Especially software and internet ushered a new age in the space of social product, causing an explosion of self-production of social product. In this new age of social product production, knowledge become the uppermost important thing. And here I mean the real knowledge, not the dead knowledge in the text book. Real knowledge is live knowledge that you form and shape and reconstruct daily with you your daily experiences and practices. Modern schooling is too outdated for this.
If Alvin Toffler (the author of The Third Wave) is to comment on this movie, I guess he will say this is the thought of second wave pushing back. In his book, he said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The movie still talks about reading and math. How stupid is that?! And how stupid are American politicians trying to “fix” education by standardized tests?! According to Toffler, in the 50s, America already has more people working in knowledge based jobs instead of labor-intensive jobs. Now although America is still the No. 1 country in industrial production, the percentage of population working in this field drops to less than 20% (This is from Toffler’s book Revolutionary Wealth, which is written in 2006). So I guess it is still from the old idea that math is so important and Americans are losing that kids are not good at math. My experiences tell me that math is a difficult and dry subject for most people, and for most people, they will avoid it if they can. For most people, they like arts, management, and other jobs that are related to human beings. For a minority of people, they do have a strong passion for math and the physical world. So I just think that American people have a choice not to learn math if they don’t feel a strong passion for it. And there are plenty of other kinds of jobs for them. But for people in developing countries such as China, there is still no such option. So I don’t know what the director is complaining about. Is he very good at math himself? Why doesn’t he become an engineer?
Furthermore, kids have different interests at different ages. Some kids just are ready for math earlier. Some will wait until very late to develop the interest in math. Why can’t the kids have the freedom in what they want to learn and not to learn? Why we have to kill their ability to learn in order for them to learn some math? I already talked quite a lot about this in my previous posts. So I will not go into details here.
In the internet age, in the age of knowledge, the schooling model that was set up in the industrial age for the purpose of mass production will have to be changed. Otherwise the crisis will just get more serious. We cannot fail so many kids. Still holding the ideas of the second wave and trying to strengthen the current school model is not the solution. Education/learning is a deep and broad issue. To provide the real solution you need deep and broad knowledge and a long time of focus. So although this movie does draw a grim picture of current education system, the solution it claims it finds is very backwards and stupid.
A second wave establishment needs to be replaced by new third wave constructs. It cannot be fixed by second wave thoughts.
p.s. as for the solution that I think will work, read the previous post.