The United States education system really sucks. We continue to toil in a 19th century factory-based model of education, stressing conformity and standardization. This is all true even though globalization has transformed the world we live in, flipping the status quo of the labor market upside down. The education system has miserably failed in creating students that have the dexterity to think creatively and critically, work collaboratively, and communicate their thoughts.
Over the past decade, when government has tried to muddle its way through education, it has gotten fairly ugly. President Bush passed No Child Left Behind and President Obama passed Race to the Top, infatuating our schools with a culture of fill in the bubble tests and drill-and-kill teaching methods. Schools were transformed into test-preparation factories and the process of memorization and regurgitation hijacked classroom learning.
Our society has failed to understand what's at stake. For the 21st century American economy, all economic value will derive from entrepreneurship and innovation. Low-cost manufacturing will essentially be wiped out of this country and shipped to China, India, and other nations. While we may have the top companies in the world, as in Apple and Google, our competitive edge is at risk. The education system was designed to create well-disciplined employees, not entrepreneurs and innovators. According to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, 65 percent of today's grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn't been invented yet.
I propose that we institute a 21st century model of education, rooted in 21st century learning skills and creativity, imagination, discovery, and project-based learning. We need to stop telling kids to shut up, sit down, and listen to the teacher passively. As Sir Ken Robinson said in his well-acclaimed TED talk, "Schools kill creativity."
Policy-wise, we need a national curriculum, based on lean standards, so that teachers have the full autonomy to shape and mold the curriculum. Ironically enough, The Onion, a satirical newspaper, published a story in August 2011 with the headline, "Nation's Students to Give American Education System Yet Another Chance." We'll continue to get burned by the system year after year after year if we do absolutely nothing.
I'm a 16-year-old student at Syosset High School in New York, and I'm currently writing a book on education reform, Time to Think Different: Why America Needs a Learning Revolution (tentative). It was the great education reformer, Paulo Freire who perceptively noted, "If the structure does not permit dialogue, the structure must be changed."
Students are left out of the debate, even thought we have the most important opinions. I'm writing this book to offer a unique student perspective on the issue. Instead of schools cherishing students' passions and interests, they destroy them. Let's raise kids to dream big and think different. America will need to re-kindle the innovative spirit that has propelled in the past. It's a do or die moment. Bring on the learning revolution!
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