In the mid 1980s, the Reagan administration published “A Nation at Risk,” an initiative intended to reform the educational system in our country due to deficits in test scores. For many the outlook was grim, and this outlook catapulted us into an era of absolute and quantitative standardized testing, creating an education system that devalued the process of learning, and put far too much emphasis on what they came to see as the product of learning–a numerical score. This mindset instilled the idea within teachers that predisposed stimuli will lead to guaranteed outcomes, leading to higher achievement on standardized tests. This mindset led us to believe that we would “succeed.”
However, what we’re seeing, as we are now over 30 years past the publishing of “A Nation at Risk,” is that our efforts to better our educational system have been executed only in vain. While we intended to create higher achieving students, our scores have flatlined, and in some cases, our scores have even lowered over the course of the last 30 years. This is especially disheartening to those who championed the No Child Left Behind Act, who expected 100% of students to be meeting or exceeding standards by this year.
The problem is that all of the initiatives have found their roots in fear–fear that our students would not succeed, fear that that our educational system was failing, but more so, a fear that the United States would not continue to hold this preconceived notion of “being the best.”
And what happens when we’re afraid? When we’re afraid, we become hostile, and we try to control. We centralize power so that we can use predisposed stimuli to give us predictable outcomes–predictable outcomes that will lead us to the success we so desire. And what’s happened in the United States is just that. We’ve created standardized tests and standardized curricula that have led to standardized students, incapable of innovation, critical thought, or creative solutions, when the original intention of education in the United States was to perpetuate the American Dream, to create innovators and creative thinkers, and to help propel our country into the future.
It would seem that the fear of not being the best has been a greater contributing factor to our declining status in the global educational world. Perhaps it would be a better idea to rid ourselves of this culture of fear in our system, so that teachers will feel the freedom to encourage, inspire, and create innovators for the future.