No Standards for Creativity
I started this blog after a series of conversations I had with my friend Eugene about globalization, research, and what the United States should do to remain competitive. We discussed a range of topics, including government involvement, education, contemporary views of science and engineering at home and abroad, and the history of research and innovation. I suspect my blog posts in the past have considered these issues tangentially.
My views about the American education system have been mixed. American universities hold dominant positions in research and education in part because of the revenues they generate from tuition and philanthropic donations. At the same time, I feel that grade inflation discourages students from attaining their limits. This became clear in graduate school when I found the level of understanding I needed to have about a subject before I could prove a theorem was much greater than the level of understanding I needed to ace the final in the corresponding course.
The media has also decried the mediocre performance of math and science students in standardized tests, citing East Asian countries as models for comparison. Standardized tests clearly provide some measure to judge the knowledge students acquired, and countries with higher performing students probably have different systems for educating their students. Should we automatically judge their education systems as better? I had no insight about this until Eugene sent me an e-mail describing his experiences in the Korean education system and how different it was from his junior and senior year at an American high school.
On weekdays, classes started at 7am and ended around 5pm. After classes, we stayed in school until midnight “grinding.” We even went to school on saturdays and sundays to review material. Midterms and Finals were given over three day periods. Each day we were tested on 5 to 6 different subjects.
There was no room for creativity. We were not given the opportunity to pursue our own interests. There was no time outside of school.
This and similar points Eugene made in his e-mail caused me to better appreciate my own experiences in middle school and high school. The best experiences I had during that period came from using my free time constructively. This was the time I used to read murder mysteries, write computer programs, play in the school band, and join a student research program in microbiology. Of course, not all my activities were constructive, and television was also a significant part of my “down time.” However, news programs fed my interest in current events, and my parents got me a subscription to Newsweek. I would pore through the pages whenever it arrived in the mail.
The primary education system has changed since I graduated high school. In 2001, the government enacted the No Child Left Behind Act into law. This has sought to hold schools accountable for the education of their students through standardized tests. While I recognize that comparative measures like standardized tests are one way to hold schools accountable, I hope that the students in the United States continue to have the free time to pursue personal expression and creativity. Let’s hope my high school still closes before midnight.