Congressman Sarbanes Gets His Committee Assignment
Congressman Sarbanes (MD-3) has been named to the Education and Workforce Committee pending final approval by the Democratic Caucus. This committee seems like a good assignment for our new congressman. He has is work cut out for him with No Child Left Behind continuing to destroy our education system by rewarding only teaching to the test and thus only the recall level and not the critical thinking skills that are crucial to function in a democracy or a market economy. How many people remember covalent bonding or the War of 1812 five years after they finish school? Frankly, they don’t need to if they have the research skills to look it up and the critical thinking skills to assess their sources.
When I was in graduate school at the London School of Economics, which has the most internationally diverse student body among all English speaking universities, I noticed a distinct difference between the North American (i.e. US and Canadian) students and all the others. The non-North American students were great at regurgitating different authors’ arguments and giving one author’s critique of another author, but they were unable to generate their own critic of a particular theory or take information from a variety of sources and develop solutions. For example, I was taking a lot of classes on ethnic conflict and after reading lots of different theories and case studies most still could not identify which constitutional structure should be put together to reduce ethnic conflict in any giving situation. They could only say they would use Lijphart’s approach or Horowitz’s approach, not pick and choose what aspects of each would work best to mitigate conflict and what effects each of these aspects would have together. The North American students by contrast might not be able to quote back a particular author’s theories verbatim or give one author’s critique of another, but were always probing the ideas and developing their own often fresh critiques of any of the theories they looked at and given a particular problem they were good at take information from a variety of sources and come up with a creative solution. In a market economy it is crucial to have the critical thinking and problem solving skills to figure out how to best market a particular product or as a consumer sort out what is quality information to make purchase choices. In a democracy we need to have these critical thinking skills to sort out what candidates, the media, interest groups, neighbors, friends, and family all say about candidates so we can determine where candidates actually stand on the issues we care about and what their records are so we can determine who we want to vote for. No Child Left Behind is a systematic attack on the teaching of critical thinking and thus an attack on our market competitiveness (the critical thinking focus of our education system is why we have such an innovative and entrepreneurial society and is the source of so many new technologies) and our democratic process. Standardized tests do not measure what gives our society its strategic advantage over most other countries and teaching to the test only weakens
So needless to say I strongly hope Congressman Sarbanes will use his new committee assignment to get rid of No Child Left Behind and maybe start addressing the real issues of regional income disparities, large class sizes, bureaucratic burdens on teachers, and recruiting into the teaching field those critical thinkers that challenge their students to think, like many of the great teachers I had hear in Howard County did when I was growing up here.