Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Have we been Shanghaied?

The Chinese have been eating our lunch lately, and, if current trends continue, we will soon be making their lunch.

Our political leaders had their Claude Rains moment---'shocked, shocked!' that the Chinese students from Shanghai could emerge at the top of the international rankings, with the USA way down the list, either at or below average on international measures of achievement in reading, math, and science.  A leader from the Reagan years compared the moment to the Russian Sputnik launch of the 1950's, and the unelected chair of the American Handwringing Society---Tom Friedman---excoriated us once again for our failure as a people and a nation.  Surprised?  BobOnARoll is not.

How ironic that on the very same day the PISA results were announced, the Times ran a photo of NY's new schools chancellor, Cathie Black, kneeling on a schoolroom floor next to a group of elementary students, remarking that what teachers really seem to need is a good pair of knees to do their job.  What BobOnARoll suggests is that we pack up Cathie and a half dozen leaders of our other major metropolitan schools systems and send them to Shanghai, Korea, and Singapore for a thirty-day education in what success looks like.

There's another side to this test score story, of course.  Let's remember that the Chinese are almost pathologically driven to demonstrate the success of their socio-political model, much like the Russians were back in the good ol' Soviet Union days.  This is the same Chinese government that pushed under-age girl gymnasts into Olympic competition to gain an edge and the one that is systematically (and successfully) manipulating its currency for competitive advantage while hacking our private and government computer networks to probe and exploit our weaknesses.

Did the Chinese somehow manage to stack the deck in their favor during the PISA test process?  Yep, there's a better than even chance of that.  Yet, this misses the larger point, which is that our country seems to have abandoned standards of what constitutes an educated person.  And substituted a politics which shames and humiliates the educated and the intellectual classes of our society.

We have a long slog ahead of us to get back to education achievement levels we need to be globally competitive.  And we can do this.  But not from the top down.  Our leaders in education and government should be modeling, through their own behaviors as parents, a commitment to excellence.  Let's develop half a dozen different models of success that we have observed elsewhere and have the guts to implement them and see them through at the local level for the next 5-10 years.  We need government investment that shows us that the bridge to the 21st century is not a bridge, it's a desk.

1 comment:

  1. HEC, the french haute ├ęcole, has been cited as best european Economic School. People from HSG, the only Hohe Schule from Switzerland, won't like that. Shanghai is returning to its position of pre WW2.