Dr. Yong Zhao–an inspiring keynote from ISTE 2012

The Keynote Address brings huge expectation and anticipation but in my brief experience with educational conferences, they are often disappointing–great message but lackluster delivery or inspired but irrelevant or unrealistic.  I’m relieved to share one of the highlights from ISTE was Dr. Yong Zhao‘s keynote entitled Global, Creative, and Entrepreneurial: Defining High Quality Education.  I linked the video above thanks to Larry Ferlazzo who posted it and Alice Mercer (@alicemercer) who told him about the video.  Thanks to both of you.  I enjoyed it the first time in the big hall with great visuals, healthy humor sprinkled in and many ah-ha moments.  And when I listened at my kitchen table and taking notes, I laughed and ah-ha’d all over again.

Dr. Zhao explored the dichotomy between China and the United States–test scores, global rankings, education systems and educational reform (yes, China has ed reform on the front burner just as we do).  Yes, China out ranks us on national measures (FIMS, SIMS, TIMS, etc.) but they hunger for a Steve Jobs or Lady Gaga.  We squander resources (music and the arts) in pursuit of test scores. We are both barking up the wrong tree, or better we are each barking up a very narrow, limited tree.

Dr. Zhao makes no excuses for the US–our education system has been in crisis for many years, despite our Presidential declarations, national and local initiatives or demands for change.  I’ll jump to a closing remark here because it sums up how I feel but struggle with due to the current measuring stick, “Test scores–n0 matter what they claim to be.  Common assessment or not common assessment.  No matter what kind of test comes out, as long as it’s standardized it should not apply to everybody. Test scores do not reflect your teaching ability, your students’ future or your school’s quality.”

Can you hear the applause from the crowd?

I need to remind myself, our teachers, our students and our parent community of this.  Often.  Despite the initiatives of the state and federal government, our students, our teachers and our schools are more than a set of numbers.  We have artists, poets, mathematicians, runners, dancers, readers, builders, debaters, wrestlers, entrepreneurs, mechanics, singers, song writers, pianists, gardeners, scientists… I could fill the rest of this blog with the things our kids are and never, never does test taker or high scorer or proficient or far below basic come into my mind.  That just isn’t a thing our kids are; it’s a thing applied to them, to us.

Back to reality.  I know that schools cannot be all things to all students.  It just isn’t possible or realistic.  But Dr. Zhao pointed out that our tolerance for the unique is what sets the US apart from those high ranking countries.  He also quipped that what sets those high ranking countries apart from us was their use of chopsticks (the new ed reform).  Our tolerance for the unique, the creative, the different is what makes our education system turn out folks like Lady Gaga and Steve Jobs (among others, although those were his two illustrations).  “If Lady Gaga is useful then everyone can be useful,” concluded Dr. Zhao.  Laughter. “Education is not about fixing someone’s deficits, it’s about enhancing their strengths.”  Applause.

We cannot deliver every type of music instruction that students might be interested in, but we can allow that strength to come into the classroom, to acknowledge it, to give it a venue.  We cannot offer every sport opportunity that students enjoy, but we can highlight their achievements and hard work, we can give our student-athletes a voice and a forum.  We cannot read to the student body every amazing piece of poetry or essay or short story, but we can share student writing via social media, give them a global audience and provide an authentic platform for their unique voices.

I encourage you to watch the speech in its entirety.  I know I’ll listen again.  Thanks ISTE–great choice!

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