In this latest case it's hard to say what's more shocking: that the "expert" in question thinks she's qualified to make recommendations about general classroom pedagogy, or that the publication in question has given her a forum for doing so.
The expert in question: Martha Nussbaam, a professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago Law School.
The publication in question: The New Republic.
In a July 1st opinion piece entitled "The Ugly Models", Nussbaum criticizes American liberals, specifically President Obama and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristov, for extolling the virtues and successes of the Chinese and Singaporean education systems.
Alluding to "the Chinese government’s ferocious opposition to political dissent," Nussbaum writes:
Obama and Kristof and all the other U.S. proponents of Singapore and China’s educational systems apparently aren’t thinking very hard about the relationship of those policies to democratic debate and democratic autonomy. Indeed, they are glorifying that which does not deserve praise.Nussbaum offers just one reason why these education systems don't deserve praise:
By their own internal accounts, [educators in China and Singapore] do a great deal of rote learning [sic] and “teaching to the test.”Given that educators in the US have been making the same claims about US education from time immemorial, this presumably qualifies us as steadfast "Ugly Models" as well. But Nussbaum doesn't go there.
Instead, she implicitly concedes that there is a bright side to this Sino-Singaporean critical self-awareness, namely, an inkling of possible reform:
In recent years, both nations have conducted major educational reforms, concluding that a successful economy requires nourishing analytical abilities, active problem-solving, and the imagination required for innovation. In other words, neither country has adopted a broader conception of education's goal, but both have realized that even that narrow goal of economic enrichment is not well served by a system focused on rote learning.Nussbaum elaborates Singapore's reform attempts in particular:
Singapore, similarly, reformed its education policy in 2003 and 2004, allegedly moving away from rote learning toward a more “child-centered” approach in which children are understood as “proactive agents.” Rejecting “repetitious exercises and worksheets,” the reformed curriculum conceives of teachers as “co-learners with their students, instead of providers of solutions.” It emphasizes both analytical ability and “aesthetics and creative expression, environmental awareness … and self and social awareness.”The problem, Nussbaum explains, is that these reforms remain theoretical:
Observers of current practices in both Singapore and China conclude that the reforms have not really been implemented. Teacher pay is still linked to test scores, and thus the incentive structure to effectuate real change is lacking.Here, Nussbaum herself waxes pragmatic:
In general, it’s a lot easier to move toward rote learning than to move away from it, since [this kind of progressive education] requires resourcefulness and perception, and it is always easier to follow a formula.
In Singapore, nobody even attempts to use the new techniques when teaching about politics and contemporary problems. “Citizenship education” typically takes the form of analyzing a problem, proposing several possible solutions, and then demonstrating how the one chosen by government is the right one for Singapore.
Singapore and China are terrible models of education for any nation that aspires to remain a pluralistic democracy. They have not succeeded on their own business-oriented terms, and they have energetically suppressed imagination and analysis when it comes to the future of the nation and the tough choices that lie before it.Nussbaum doesn't entertain the possibility that the U.S. education system might already be achieving precisely these results without help from Singapore and China.