Continued from page 1
Reprinted from District Administration, February, 2009, with the author's permission.
April 1, 2009
How can we redouble our commitment to business-oriented schooling? If necessary, we can outsource some of the learning to students in Asia, who will memorize more facts for lower grades. And we can complete the process, already begun in spirit, of making universities’ education departments subsidiaries of their business schools. More generally, we must put an end to pointless talk about students’ “interest” in learning and instead focus on skills that will contribute to the bottom line. Again, we’re delighted to report that this shift is already underway, thanks to those who keep reminding us about the importance of 21st-century schooling.
This is no time for complacency, though. Not everyone is on board yet, and that means we’ll have to weed out teachers whose stubborn attachment to less efficient educational strategies threatens to slow down the engine of our future economy. How can we rid our schools of those who refuse to be team players? Well, we can insist that all classroom instruction be rigorously aligned to state standards – a very effective technique since most of those standards documents were drafted by people steeped in the models, methods, and metaphors of corporations. We can also use merit pay to enforce compliance by stigmatizing anyone who doesn’t play by the new rules. (Come to think of it, here, too, we’re already well on our way to creating 22nd-century classrooms.)
The final distinguishing feature of education that’s geared to the next century is its worshipful attitude toward mathematics and technology. “If you can’t quantify it or plug it in, who needs it?” Of course, the reason we will continue to redirect resources toward the STEM subjects (and away from literature and the arts) isn’t because the former are inherently more important but simply because they’re more useful from an economic standpoint. And that standpoint is the only one that matters for schools with a proper 22nd-century mindset.
One last point. We will of course continue to talk earnestly about the need for a curriculum that features “critical thinking” skills – by which we mean the specific proficiencies acceptable to CEOs. But you will appreciate the need to delicately discourage real critical thinking on the part of students, since this might lead them to pose inconvenient questions about the entire enterprise and the ideology on which it’s based. There’s certainly no room for that in the global competitive economy of the future. Or the present.
Alfie Kohnhas recently completed a book called Crime and Punishment. He expects to begin reading another one shortly.
Kohn has been described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores." His criticisms of competition and rewards have helped to shape the thinking of educators -- as well as parents and managers -- across the country and abroad. Kohn has been featured on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including the "Today" show and two appearances on "Oprah"; he has been profiled in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, while his work has been described and debated in many other leading publications.
Kohn lectures widely at universities and to school faculties, parent groups, and corporations. In addition to speaking at staff development seminars and keynoting national education conferences on a regular basis, he conducts workshops for teachers and administrators on various topics. Among them: "Motivation from the Inside Out: Rethinking Rewards, Assessment, and Learning" and "Beyond Bribes and Threats: Realistic Alternatives to Controlling Students' Behavior." The latter corresponds to his book BEYOND DISCIPLINE: From Compliance to Community (ASCD, 1996), which he describes as "a modest attempt to overthrow the entire field of classroom management."
Kohn's various books have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Hebrew, Thai, Malaysian, and Italian. He has also contributed to publications ranging from the Journal of Education to Ladies Home Journal, and from the Nation to the Harvard Business Review ("Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work"). His efforts to make research in human behavior accessible to a general audience have also been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Parents, and Psychology Today.
His many articles on education include eleven widely reprinted cover essays in Phi Delta Kappan: "Caring Kids: The Role of the Schools" (March 1991), "Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide" (Sept. 1993), "The Truth About Self-Esteem" (Dec. 1994), "How Not to Teach Values: A Critical Look at Character Education" (Feb. 1997), "Only for My Kid: How Privileged Parents Undermine School Reform" (April 1998), "Fighting the Tests" (Jan. 2001), "The 500-Pound Gorilla" (Oct. 2002), "Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow" (April 2004), "Challenging Students -- And How to Have More of Them" (Nov. 2004), "Abusing Research" (Sept. 2006), and "Who's Cheating Whom?" (Oct. 2007).
Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area with his wife and two children, and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn.org.