Monday, August 20, 2007

There's a growing trend to evaluate our educational system based on test scores. Undoubtedly, our test scores will improve, but at what price? Are those tests designed to help students who will never attend college? It might surprise some people to realize that half of our students are below average! As important as education is, Academia will not save the world by raising test scores. It is a worthy goal to bring a college education within reach of all children, but not realistic. Luckily, there will always be a need for manual labor.

There is a solution which helps everyone. The solution is to teach all students a variety of skills, and not just academic skills. Among those skills is the ability to do things with your hands. John Ratzenberger created because of what he sees as a crisis in America. You probably remember him as the actor who portrayed "Cliff" on "Cheers." He is also the host of a TV series called "Made in America" and the author of a book called "We've Got It Made In America," which I own and would be glad to share. His message is that kids love to tinker, and we need to foster that inquisitiveness. It is the curiosity of how stuff works which makes for better engineers, inventors, and even art museum archivists(1). What he does not say, but bears pointing out, is that a manual skill can be applied even if one does not pursue higher education.

Ratzenberger's position is that promoting manual skills prepares kids to be the inventors of tomorrow. This past summer my 9 year old son attended a week long summer camp called "Camp Invention." It would come as no surprise to Ratzenberger or myself that the kids' favorite part of the week was the "Take Apart" activity during the "I Can Invent" module. They had a blast learning to use hand tools and examing the gears and pulleys inside discarded appliances.

While the idea behind No Child Left Behind is an honorable one, it will do us more harm than good if it serves to distract our efforts from those things which have historically been our strengths. The teaching of technical or manual skills is just as imperitive as the teaching of the 3 Rs or digital skills if we are to prosper in a future of unknown problems solved by unknown tools.

(1) an Aug 19, 2007 article in our local paper depicts art museum archivist using an open end wrench to tighten a nut on the tail of a 1930 Savoia Marchetti flying boat. My initial response to seeing the image was "Why on earth would he be ruining that nut with an open end wrench? A six point box end wrench should minimize the marring of a museum piece!"


Kevin Gamble said...

Agreed completely! All those tests aren't doing the college bound kids any good either.

I was walking through Barnes and Noble recently and they had this big new section for manuals/books to prepare for end-of-grade testing, etc. I thought, "This is sick!"

We seriously have things out of wack and must restore some balance.

Greg said...

Thanks Kevin. I'm not sure how we'll restore that balance nationally, but I'll make an effort here at home and hope it works. Baby steps...