We hear it constantly, debates and choruses about the abysmal state of the American education system, ideas from the no child left behind act removing government money from failing schools, to the elimination recess to improve academic performance, to longer school years to get American kids on the same page with countries like China and Japan, in hopes of bettering lagging math and science scores where Americans traditionally rank at the bottom. While we can all agree on the importance of an education and also find it completely unacceptable to have illiterates graduating high school or graduates with elementary school reading levels none of the proposed solutions seem to be focusing on the latter two things nor do they seem to grasp what keeps America afloat. One such exposé looking at school failure done by 20/20 contrasted Belgian schools with American schools as well as looking nationwide at the highest test scores; the show found that Belgian students scored much higher on a basic high school test and the attitude of the Belgian students was if the American students couldn’t do this they were stupid. American students assessed their abilities as at least compatible with others, pointing to a they don’t know what they don’t know conclusion. It also looked at the Belgian school system that showcased specialty high schools centered around sports, computers, electronics repair to name a few and that the competition among teachers was fierce to satisfy parents in giving kids a quality education. Along side that, American schools creating both the best and worst test scores, schools often with state of the art equipment that show no change in test scores; likewise a school with the very basics getting the most positive results.

However, there are many problems with these exposés and many things they do not take into account; for example one of the schools with the highest test scores had children putting up the lunch tables and gym was running the sidewalks around school property and there were no computers. So, while this school may have the highest test scores they are going to matriculate students without basic computer skills to later fill out job applications online or create a résumé in areas where computers are least likely to be in the home. The Belgian schools featured may seem like the cream of the crop, but it’s more about what you don’t see in the piece there were no schools centered around art, music, literature, journalism, and while the foreign students seemed better able to recall American history than American kids one is left to wonder if they could do the same with their own country’s or would they fumble it just like us? Or, in the case of places like China, for example, is it they have been so indoctrinated with love of state they know nothing else? Authors of the piece seeming to forget that perhaps the reason so many know so much about American history is because it is the country looked up to the country to emulate. Likewise the ideas for fixing the education system don’t hold water; one such idea was closing failing schools and bussing students to ones with better test score; this was long before $4.00 a gallon gas, possible 4 day school weeks. But even with those basic logistics aside, bussing students requires them to be on busses more hours and with smaller kids that can be detrimental as they have to get up too early and get less time at home after school. Smaller high schools have had success in that they make sure students get more one on one attention but can create a catch 22 for students who then try to attend large colleges and then are at a loss when they get no one on one instructor attention, left completely to their own devices for success.

Many also fail to understand that there is more to life, at least American life, than test scores; the cardinal sins of the American education system are not what we teach but how we teach it. We have teaching methods trapped in the industrial age while we live in the information age and we have a lack of intertwinement between education and employment that leaves talented degree holders unable to find jobs due to lack of job experience. Teachers spend so much time teaching the test rather than just teaching, just focusing on learning. One school that made the news for its success, success that had nothing to do with stripping down to the basics or longer school years, not even the 8-4 school day and business causal dress code it imposed; its success came in giving high school students internship opportunities before they would normally have them. What panicked people looking at the “failing” of the education system don’t realize is you can flunk standardized tests and still be an A and B student you can even do badly on the traditional college entrance exams and still have options. Most community colleges or smaller colleges (where students often choose to go due to cost, course study or learning environment) will still accept a student with a poor standardized test score based on class rank and GPA; others have academic probation where students are given a chance to take the typical college entrance courses or to prove themselves capable. In fact, some of those with the highest test scores were later found to do poorly in college because, while they could test well, when asked to think for themselves, come up with ideas and write they could not perform at the college level. So much of the time those monitoring the education issues forget that standardized tests measure one part of intelligence and is not a gage of overall mental acuity; they also do not attribute some of the failing scores to the fact that testing methods are constantly changing and students may not know how to take the test.

What sets America apart from every other country in spite of test scores, in spite of what we seemingly do not know is ingenuity, the hallmark of what keeps America a player on the world stage is not only an illustrious history of excellence and a reputation as a superpower but, innovation. Somehow it has been forgotten that the Internet was an American military project now utilized by the world, that the creators of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, the top social networks, search engines like Google and Yahoo are Americans. It was America that put a man on the moon, NASA’s mars probe that discovered evidence of possible water droplets on the planet, leading to speculations there might have once been life on mars. Conjoined twins are brought here from many parts of the world for separation surgery. We forget the young entrepreneurs who have used computers to make video games, natural hair care products for African Americans, published books and have become CEO’s at 16, the young Canadian who came here to launch his business because those in his own country told him he was too young and inexperienced, the tweens that took a locker decorating idea and turned into a million dollar business. Some of the NBA’s most talented players are from other countries. We also have degrees in cutting edge fields like forensic science, media arts, video game design and criminal justice And looking at the world as the global market it is means it can be looked at another way; imagine the world as a school course catalog. In countries like India we have some of the best engineers, doctors, in China, Japan, the math and science while America is the humanities nation. A nation of poets, authors, artists and creators; America is the home of Hollywood, Broadway, Motown. Actors come to the US from across the world to begin their careers; students come from around the world to get their educations at our most well known universities. Some of America’s best-known contemporary artists are making elaborate creations out of bubble gum and Lego’s. It is that kind of resourcefulness, the ability to use things in your environment that keeps America on the playing field.

Part of being in a global market is also the interplay of ideas, sharing of everything from technology to discovery not just about who got there first. Another part of it is who is consuming the products, ideas coming from your country, how they are used; MP3 technology may have come from somewhere else but no one can deny how American’s used it, the success of the iPod and its off shoots and upgrades, the financial gains for its creators. While India may have been the first to come out with a compact fuel-efficient car getting eye-popping miles per gallon, the American models in the works not only better suits the lifestyle of America, but at least have the potential to be marketed to other nations with similar tastes, places in Europe, places like Japan. America has little to worry about as long as people want to come here to realize their dreams; America has little to worry about when it is still the model to be envied, when we are exporting staples of our culture like McDonald’s and Disney. America has little to worry about as long as we keep the kind of imaginative minds we have had for two centuries; America has little to worry about when even in China where the math and science skills are superior the picture of success is American, where the young people want to create the next big computer craze and become the next Bill Gates.