The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports American education scores are improving compared to a similar evaluation conducted in 2007 (when education tallies hit an all-time low), but the improvement is minimal. The study touts the fact that every state, although with little progress, reported better results than 2007. It sounds promising with a hint of optimism – until you read the part of the study that compares US scores to international test education scores. International test scores (in far too many European and Asian locales to list) are appreciating at astounding rates. Why is the US languishing in mediocrity and what can be done about it?
Perhaps we need a complete education overhaul. In the 1970’s, Finland embarked on such a journey and is now rated number one in education. Some of the factors that made the leap:
– Many teachers were sent for additional training and have to hold a master’s degree to teach in the public school system.
– Through a national campaign, teachers’ social standing soared and teachers shared the same status alongside doctors and lawyers.
– The government supports teachers by providing ongoing education, special education workshops and social programs.
The Finnish education system combines students of all academic abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds in the same classrooms. This last point is key—not just for education, but for social harmony. In the US, an increasingly larger percentage of our students come from diverse backgrounds—other countries, cultures and religions. The key to overcoming prejudice and bias is interaction coupled with education.
However, my concerns go beyond the basic curriculum: what about global education? How is the next generation going to thrive in an increasingly interactive global economy with the current US-focused curriculum? Where are the world history or international politics classes? How can we expand immersion programs for foreign language and international studies?
And something we desperately need: cross cultural communication classes so American students can understand the norms, values and communication styles of other cultures. If our kids are going to lead multicultural teams in a global environment, they have to have the knowledge and confidence to do so.
One of the main ways to succeed in an increasingly interactive global marketplace is for American education to instill an awareness of how to become a cultural chameleon. By that, I mean learning and understanding how cultures different from your own speak, act and interact. In addition, evolving into a cultural chameleon and global player requires understanding other cultural norms, values and mores so future leaders have the ability to segue seamlessly from one cultural interaction to another. It’s an integral skill set required of today’s generation in order to succeed on the world stage.
Now is the time to raise the bar for American education. The formula for success is simple: quality fundamentals and cultural education — beginning with a focus on the cultural chameleon skill set.
Our kids deserve better. What classes would you like to see in America’s middle and high school curriculum?