What about soft skills?

By Ken Maurer

America is an innovation-driven society. We lead the world in the most original patents, the most Nobel laureates, and the most scientific discoveries of the 20th century. We have the world’s largest economy. More Americans have cell phones, computers, and iPods than do the citizens of any other country.

What conditions produced the students who have become the innovators, creators, and scientists who make all of this possible? We have no national curriculum, national test, national pedagogy, or national assessment for public schools in the United States. In fact, we always have encouraged and endorsed local autonomy.

American education always has understood two truths:

• Albert Einstein’s maxim: “Everything that can be counted does not always count, and everything that counts cannot be counted.”

• We cannot expect every student to learn the exact same thing in the exact same way in the exact same amount of time.

Knowing these things, it is amazing that our government leaders -- Republican and Democrat, Bush and Obama, the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top -- want a national curriculum based on national standards. The movement is for government to dictate what children will learn, how they will learn it, and how they are to be evaluated. Under this model, good education is equated to high test scores. Nothing else counts.

What effect will a national education system of this kind have on innovation, creativity, technological advancement, respect for individual talents, promotion of divergent thinking, and toleration for deviation from the norm?

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