NBC News is convening an education summit in September. “The two-day ‘Education Nation’ event in New York will be carried online, and is part of a week of programming concentrating on education issues on NBC News broadcasts such as “Today” and “Nightly News,” and the MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo TV networks,” according to the AP story.
It is great that such a powerful media giant as NBC pays attention to education. Given the reach of NBC, this can be a very big deal for education. What will be said during this summit and on NBC’s various programs could have tremendous impact on the public’s view of education. This is a timely event as American education is at a critical moment as the nation moves toward more centralization, standardization, and testing.
I hope NBC will use this event to help shift the national discussion about education to the right direction by discontinuing the tradition of bashing American education at summits like this. Don’t just get a group of politicians, business leaders, or academics to say how bad American education is. We have heard the message many times for over half a century. Since the 1950s, American education has been proclaimed to be worse than others’: from the Soviet Union to Japan, to Singapore, and now China and India.
Instead, I hope NBC would attempt to answer the question: if American education has been so bad for over half a century as some would make us believe, how come the U.S. remains the most innovative and competitive nation and its education system is being emulated by countries around the world, especially the ones some fear would outcompete the US such as China?
Furthermore, I hope NBC would focus on the issues truly critical to American education such as the increased power and expanded authority of the federal government in education, national standards, and test-driven accountability. The media have been dominated by supporters of more standards, more centralization, and more testing, while voices of an alternative view are rarely heard on mainstream media.
In essence, what I would like to see NBC do with this great opportunity is to stimulate a national conversation about what kind of education America needs, instead of simply endorsing what is politically popular at this moment. As I wrote in my recent book, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization:
American education is at a crossroads. There are two paths in front of us: one in which we destroy our strengths in order to “catch up” with others in test scores and one in which we build on our strengths so we can keep the lead in innovation and creativity. The current push for more standardization, centralization, high-stakes testing, and test-based accountability is rushing us down the first path while what will truly keep America strong and Americans prosperous should be the latter, the one that cherishes individual talents, cultivates creativity, celebrates diversity, and inspires curiosity. As we enter a new world rapidly changed by globalization and technology, instead of instilling fear in the public about the rise of other countries, bureaucratizing education with bean-counting policies, demoralizing educators through dubious accountability measures, homogenizing school curriculum, and turning children into test-takers, we should work on informing the public about possibilities brought about by globalization, encouraging education innovations, inspiring educators with genuine support, diversifying and decentralizing curriculum, and educating children as confident, unique, and well-rounded human beings. (p. 198)
(This post was originally published on Yong Zhao’s education blog.)