I’ve written two posts (here and here) on “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back” by Thomas Friedman and Michalel Mandelbaum. As promised, here’s a post about some of the solutions Friedman and Mandelbaum propose.
First, I have to just say – the book is FANTASTIC on outlining what’s wrong. If you feel America is headed in the wrong direction and need some facts, figures and talking points this is a great resource. Like some of Friedman’s other books the description of the problem can feel almost overwhelming at time.
As I focus for 2012 (Create. Positive. Change.) I remind myself to get out of despair/anger and into solutions. This post will cover solutions proposed for the first of the four major areas of challenges that the book addresses:
- How to adapt to Globalization
- Hot to adjust to the IT revolution
- How to cope with the large and soaring budget deficits
- How to manage a world of both rising energy consumption and rising climate threats
For Globalization – in essence, the antidote is education. On page 19 he quotes Charles Vest, former president of MIT who said:
“..it requires a public awakening, establishment of political will, resetting of priorities, sacrifice for the future, and an alliance of governments, businesses and citizens. … Engineering, education, science, and technology are clearly within the core of what has to be done. After all, this is the knowledge age. The United States cannot prosper based on low wages, geographic isolation, or military might. We can prosper only based on brainpower: properly prepared and properly applied brainpower.”
He again emphasizes the importance of science and math on page 100:
“Because of the merger of globalization and the IT revolution, raising math, science, reading and creativity levels in American schools is the key determinant of economic growth, and economic growth is the key to national power and influence as well as individual well-being.”
- We need to close the educational gap between whites and minorities – we need “all hands on deck”
- Tony Wegner, from Harvard, argues that we should “create a West Point for would-be teachers and principals”
Use these lessons from Colorado:
- Pay teachers for results and watch what happens!
- Reward the best teachers and then pay them to teach their methods to others
- Base tenure on performance, not seniority
- If reductions in force are needed do it based on effectiveness, not seniority
- Let principles hire their own teachers. “That is, the school district cannot take ineffective teachers, whom no school wants to hire, and force them on a school. Teachers who are not hired by any school on their merits after one year get released.”
There are other things WE can do to help:
- Support effective teachers as a community. Money isn’t the only reward – Washington, DC does an event called “A Standing Ovation for D.C. Teachers” (p 118)
- Push politicians to make educational reform a priority.
- Get who the real competition is – it’s not the other middle school in your town, but the middle school in Shanghai or Seoul against which you should compare your children’s school
- Expect more of your children or the kids in your life. I love this line: “American young people have got to understand from an early age that the world pays off on results, not on effort.” (p 125). Amen!
- Get involved – ACTIVELY involved in your kids education and learning.
- Read to your kids and have lots of books in your home: “children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.” (p 127)
- “At precisely the moment when we need more education to bring the bottom up to the average and the American average up to the global peaks, our students are spending more time texting and gaming and less time than ever studying and doing homework. Unless we get them to spend the time needed to master a subject, all the teacher training in the world will go for naught.” (p 129)
Those are just a few suggestions from one chapter – the book is full of ideas that could each spawn a movement.
The statistics and anecdotes they provided about how VERY far behind America is educationally scared me a lot. I don’t have kids, but I have nieces and nephews and now a lot of grandnieces and grandnephews. I want a better future for them. If you have kids you love, consider providing them with encouragement, inspiration, books and resources. Push them to get results – it’s so important for them and for America.