And let’s stop using ‘competition’ as a solution for the problems that have been caused by…. ‘competition’.

The One about “Global Competitiveness” and What we Truly Want for our Children

by Mitchell Robinson – 05 Jun 2015

Education reformers have been very clear about their goals for American schools and students. Authors like C. M. Rubin have called for parents to vote for the presidential candidate “who has the most impactful 21st-century vision for education, because addressing our issues now is essential for the U.S. to maintain its prosperity and global leadership in the next decades.”Neera Tanden and Matt James raise the specter of 200 million Chinese college grads by 2030 competing in the global marketplace, and compare education to Olympic medal counts in their analysis of global education trends. But few of these pundits ever ask parents what they want for their children, so as the father of 2 school age boys I’m taking the liberty to share my thoughts on the subject.

Here is what I don’t want with respect to my kids’ education:

I don’t want my children to be “globally competitive”–that’s nothing more than Cold War fear mongering. Having recently returned from Shanghai, I can report that the Chinese educators I had the pleasure of working with were very interested in American educational strategies and ideas, and not for reasons of “global competitiveness.” They seemed honestly interested in how what we do as teachers was the same or different from their approaches to teaching and learning, wanted to know how US teachers were prepared in colleges and universities, and were eager to share their traditions and ideas with us.

I’m not interested in an educational approach that is targeted on producing “college and career ready” graduates. My boys are 12 and 14. We hope they attend college, choose a major they are passionate about, and find a way to apply their talents and abilities in jobs that they enjoy and that make a strong contribution to their community and society in general. But that’s not the purpose of education. Education is not “job training”. Its so much more, and limiting the creativity and wonder of learning to college and career readiness is a perversion of the true purpose and value of education. The reformers have a very narrow, impoverished notion of education as nothing more than a banking transaction, in which teachers make deposits and students withdrawals. Its little wonder that their approach to schooling is erasing the joy of learning for students and teachers in far too many of our schools today.

And, I don’t want an increasing bevy of tests consuming ever larger swaths of time and energy in my children’s education. The truth is that we are measuring the things that are easy to measure, and ignoring the things that really matter–relationships between teachers and students, and among students themselves.

Here’s what I do want for my children’s education, and for education in general:

I want my children to read for enjoyment, play an instrument and sing, draw, dance, play, think, feel and be kind.

I want schools to be richly diverse, noisy, messy places full of discovery, where instead of worrying about a stifling regimen of tests, children are encouraged to explore, ponder, experiment and create.

I want rich arts programs, nurses, psychologists, counselors and librarians in every school, to make sure that no child comes to or leaves school hungry, and for schools to be places where every child and adult is treated with dignity and respect.

I want my children’s teachers to be free to create their own lessons, and work collaboratively with their colleagues in a climate of trust and mutual respect with their administrators, school board members and parents.

I want those teachers to be evaluated based on the work they do in the classroom with their students, not on standardized test scores in subjects they don’t teach, from students they’ve never met.

I want those teachers to be well prepared, and fully certified in their subject area with a semester or more of internship experience before being entrusted with their own classroom.

I want all children to be taught by persons who care about their growth and development as full human beings, not about their test scores.

As a parent, I have a message for the reformers: Stay out of public education and stop obfuscating parents and community members with distracting propaganda like “global competition” and “college and career readiness”, which is only designed to further the false rhetoric of “failing schools”. The vast majority of public schools are wonderful, and our children’s teachers are doing what can only be described as heroic work under very difficult conditions.

And let’s stop using “competition” as a solution for the problems that have been caused by…”competition.”


About me. . .

Mitchell Robinson is associate professor and chair of music education, and coordinator of the music student teaching program at Michigan State University. Robinson has held previous appointments as assistant professor and coordinator of the music education area at the University of Connecticut; assistant professor of school and community music education at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.; and director of wind activities and wind ensemble conductor at the University of Rochester. Robinson’s public school teaching experience includes 10 years as an instrumental music teacher, music department facilitator and high school assistant principal in Fulton, N.Y.

Robinson was awarded the 1997 Reston Prize from Arts Education Policy Review for his analysis of arts education policy, and the 1999 Research Award from the International Network of Performing and Visual Arts Schools. He recently concluded a term as Editor of the Music Educators Journal, and has served on the editorial/advisory boards of Arts Education Policy Review, the Journal of Music Teacher Education, the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, the Music Educators Journal, the International Journal of Education and the Arts, Research and Issues in Music Education, and the Desert Skies Research Symposium. His publications have appeared in Arts Education Policy Review, Music Educators Journal, Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, Journal of Music Teacher Education, American Music Teacher, and the American School Board Journal. He was a chapter author for Great Beginnings for Music Teachers: Mentoring and Supporting New Teachers, published by MENC: The National Association for Music Education in 2003, and contributed a chapter to Teaching Music in the Urban Classroom, Volume 2: A Guide to Survival, Success, and Reform, published by Rowman & Littlefield Education. Robinson also contributed two chapters to the new Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education, wrote the chapter on music (Music Teaching and Learning in a Time of Reform) for What Every Principal Needs to Know: Instructional Leadership for Equitable and Excellent Schools, which was published recently by Teachers College Press, and contributed a chapter (A Tale of Two Institutions: Or . . .Myths and Musings on Work/Life Balance) for On The High Wire: Education Professors Walk Between Work And Parenting, recently published by Information Age Press.

Robinson also served for two years as scholar-in-residence for music for the Connecticut State Department of Education, where his work focused on beginning music teacher induction and support. A founding member of the Instrumental Music Teacher Educators Association (IMTE), Robinson received B.F.A. degrees in music education and trumpet performance from the State University of New York at Buffalo, the M.M.Ed. from Hartt School of Music, a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from the State University of New York-Oswego, and a Ph.D. in music education from the Eastman School of Music. He also pursued post-graduate studies in music education and conducting at Northwestern University.

Dr. Robinson lives in Okemos, MI, with his wife Cathy, an elementary music teacher, their two sons, Jacob and Drew, and Buddy the Dog.