With All the Thoughtfulness of a Sneeze

Alfie Kohn on the ranking of American students vis a vis the rest of the world:

If our reason for emphasizing students’ relative standing (rather than their absolute achievement) has to do with “competitiveness in the 21st-century global economy” — a phrase that issues from politicians, businesspeople, and journalists with all the thoughtfulness of a sneeze, then we would do well to ask two questions. The first, based on values, is whether we regard educating children as something that’s primarily justified in terms of corporate profits.

The second question, based on facts, is whether the state of a nation’s economy is meaningfully affected by the test scores of students in that nation. Various strands of evidence have converged to suggest that the answer is no.


To focus on rankings is not only irrational but morally offensive. If our goal is for American kids to triumph over those who live elsewhere, then the implication is that we want children who live in other countries to fail, at least in relative terms.  We want them not to learn successfully just because they’re not Americans. That’s built into the notion of “competitiveness” (as opposed to excellence or success), which by definition means that one individual or group can succeed only if others don’t. This is a troubling way to look at any endeavor, but where children are concerned, it’s indefensible.

Read the entire article here.

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