The One about "Global Competitiveness" and What we Truly Want for our Children

Education reformers have been very clear about their goals for American schools and students. Authors like C. M. Rubin have called for parents to vote for the presidential candidate "who has the most impactful 21st-century vision for education, because addressing our issues now is essential for the U.S. to maintain its prosperity and global leadership in the next decades." Neera Tanden and Matt James raise the specter of 200 million Chinese college grads by 2030 competing in the global marketplace, and compare education to Olympic medal counts in their analysis of global education trends. But few of these pundits ever ask parents what they want for their children, so as the father of 2 school age boys I'm taking the liberty to share my thoughts on the subject.

Here is what I don't want with respect to my kids' education:

I don't want my children to be "globally competitive"--that's nothing more than Cold War fear mongering. Having recently returned from Shanghai, I can report that the Chinese educators I had the pleasure of working with were very interested in American educational strategies and ideas, and not for reasons of "global competitiveness." They seemed honestly interested in how what we do as teachers was the same or different from their approaches to teaching and learning, wanted to know how US teachers were prepared in colleges and universities, and were eager to share their traditions and ideas with us.


I'm not interested in an educational approach that is targeted on producing "college and career ready" graduates. My boys are 12 and 14. We hope they attend college, choose a major they are passionate about, and find a way to apply their talents and abilities in jobs that they enjoy and that make a strong contribution to their community and society in general. But that's not the purpose of education. Education is not "job training". It's so much more, and limiting the creativity and wonder of learning to college and career readiness is a perversion of the true purpose and value of education. The reformers have a very narrow, impoverished notion of education as nothing more than a banking transaction, in which teachers make deposits and students withdrawals. It's little wonder that their approach to schooling is erasing the joy of learning for students and teachers in far too many of our schools today.

And, I don't want an increasing bevy of tests consuming ever larger swaths of time and energy in my children's education. The truth is that we are measuring the things that are easy to measure, and ignoring the things that really matter--relationships between teachers and students, and among students themselves.


Here's what I do want for my children's education, and for education in general:

I want my children to read for enjoyment, play an instrument and sing, draw, dance, play, think, feel and be kind.


I want schools to be richly diverse, noisy, messy places full of discovery, where instead of worrying about a stifling regimen of tests, children are encouraged to explore, ponder, experiment and create.

I want rich arts programs, nurses, psychologists, counselors and librarians in every school, to make sure that no child comes to or leaves school hungry, and for schools to be places where every child and adult is treated with dignity and respect.

I want my children's teachers to be free to create their own lessons, and work collaboratively with their colleagues in a climate of trust and mutual respect with their administrators, school board members and parents.


I want those teachers to be evaluated based on the work they do in the classroom with their students, not on standardized test scores in subjects they don't teach, from students they've never met.


I want those teachers to be well prepared, and fully certified in their subject area with a semester or more of internship experience before being entrusted with their own classroom.


I want all children to be taught by persons who care about their growth and development as full human beings, not about their test scores.

As a parent, I have a message for the reformers: Stay out of public education and stop obfuscating parents and community members with distracting propaganda like "global competition" and "college and career readiness", which is only designed to further the false rhetoric of "failing schools". The vast majority of public schools are wonderful, and our children's teachers are doing what can only be described as heroic work under very difficult conditions.


And let's stop using "competition" as a solution for the problems that have been caused by..."competition."

Write a comment

Comments: 24
  • #1

    Leah K Stewart (Saturday, 06 June 2015 06:59)

    Great post Mitchell. I made a similar comment a while ago on a UK article talking about the benefits of university students opting to take a year abroad in terms of "The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent....” How terrifying is this? THIS is what really happens when we study abroad: we're thrown into a world of colour and new perspectives. I was there in Sweden when an Italian student heard about the earthquake in his home country, in his home region... his next words "I'm going home to help." In a wave of realization I saw that all those news stories in 'foreign land far away' were affecting other peoples parents and siblings and friends. Study abroad is great, but don't pretend it inspires competition. Right now our world is too imbalanced to to revel in competition. Study abroad inspires international unity and connection and, boy... do we need this more than ever!

  • #2

    JBC (Sunday, 07 June 2015 20:49)

    Love it! You have brought together everything I think about education reform and expressed it so much more eloquently than I ever could. Please correct your typo at the beginning of the article: it's vs. its.

  • #3

    Siobhan (Tuesday, 12 July 2016 13:41)

    I'm a mum, of a child with complex health needs and a complex psychological profile, in the middle of a battle with the local education authority, to fund a placement at college which will is willing to bend the rules, 'think out of the box' try something different, your words, if I could be that articulate, would be what I'd say in court next week! That's what I want to say! Thank you

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    Mitch (Thursday, 14 July 2016 09:47)

    Thanks, Siobhan--that means a lot to me. Give your daughter a high 5 for me.

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