Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Michelle Rhee's Commentary on Marketplace (NPR)

Tonight, Michelle Rhee, the former, controversial Education Chancellor of Washington DC read this commentary on NPR's Marketplace.  It is such an honest look at how we praise children and students--she makes me stop and think.  What is the balance between instilling self confidence, making students feel positive about their learning environments and raising students who are honestly aware of the talents and their weaknesses?  How do we help students work hard and realize their goals?  This commentary comes in the aftermath of a new book that is out by Amy Chua about the difference between Asian and Western parenting styles. 

What is the best way to raise our kids?  What is the best way to praise our students? Do the results of these issues truly impact our economy and educational reform?  I don't have the answers, but Ms. Rhee's commentary certainly gives us food for thought.

Education reform needs a new starting point

by Michelle Rhee

We've lost our competitive spirit. We've become so obsessed with making kids feel good about themselves that we've lost sight of building the skills they need to actually be good at things.

I can see it in my own household. I have two girls, 8 and 12, and they play soccer. And I can tell you that they suck at soccer! They take after their mother in athletic ability. But if you were to see their rooms, they're adorned with ribbons, medals and trophies. You'd think I was raising the next Mia Hamm.

I routinely try to tell my kids that their soccer skills are lacking and that if they want to be better, they have to practice hard. I also communicate to them that all the practice in the world won't guarantee that they'll ever be great at soccer. It's tough to square this though, with the trophies. And that's part of the issue. We've managed to build a sense of complacency with our children.

Take as a counterpoint South Korea, where my family is originally from. In Korea, they have this culture that focuses on always becoming better. Students are ranked one through 40 in their class and everyone knows where they stand. The adults are honest with kids about what they're not good at and how far they have to go until they are number one. Can you imagine if we suggested anything close to that here? There would be anarchy.

There are many nations who have figured out what works in education. Look at Singapore. Last summer, I heard the prime minister gave a speech in which he outlined the plan for making Singapore number one in the world, financially. His economic plan was rooted in education. He knows that if the country can make its education system the best in the world, economic success will follow.

That's the opposite of what we do here in America. We see education as a social issue, not an economic one. And what happens to social issues in times of economic hardship? They get swept under the rug. We need to change our national conversation on education and our national culture on how we encourage kids. I think what's becoming clear with all of this, is that if we don't start to shift our perspective, we'll never regain our position in the global marketplace.

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