Friday, December 10, 2010

High standards (or hype) in education

Here is an article about high test scores in Shanghai schools, and how they compare to scores in other countries. This is another article about the stress kids suffer at ultra-elite schools in the US.

Frankly, I think a lot of what these articles discuss is hullaballoo. I don't believe in the worth of whatever education gotten by Chinese kids who don't go outside because they study so much. And I don't believe in the value of the resume-padding undertaken by the whole elite school racket in the US. Many of the kids with whom I attended the much-maligned Chicago public schools are smarter and more cultured than most other people I've met, be they suburban overachievers from the US or obsessive studiers from China.

While I don't agree with what a recent NYT debate implies, that perhaps having an education in China isn't worth much because job prospects don't improve considerably (indeed, in recession USA the same argument might seem to hold), I do believe that education is much more than just what schools you attend or graduate from. This seems to be borne out by the fact that in two of the three articles I've cited here (as well as this one on the apparent inadequacies of Chinese or any testing-based education system), it seems that college graduates are trying to get hired working for others, instead of creating productive businesses themselves.

I can understand the motivation of Chinese parents and teachers to push kids hard, and I can understand the worry of elite parents in the US that see their kids getting stressed out. I'd advise a healthy dose of common sense for both groups. Make sure your kids read a lot (which is only possible if you in turn read a lot). Talk to them. Go outside. Learn with your kids about how the world works, from genetics to capital finance to African religions. Know how to do things, make things, grow things, fix things, and share this knowledge with your kids. This is the way to form a brilliant, well-rounded human being. Such human beings are what make the world a better place, whether through starting a company, volunteering their skills with a worthy organization, working for the government, thinking and sharing new ideas, or just generally promoting better, more decent ways of living life.

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