Yong Zhao at PNAIS: Children Are Like Pop Corn

Dr. Zhao’s presentation at the PNAIS fall conference today was great. With the main premise that American education promotes innovation and entrepreneurship. When asked where the next Microsoft, Apple or Google would come from, the answer was the US.

With the former president’s NCLB and the current administration’s Race to the Top, where test scores are the main measure for student success or teacher accountability, they are actually doing more harm.

The world is changing and it’s the creative class that are going to be the most successful. He joked that if you asked kids in India or China what they aspired to, they answered engineer, scientist, etc. and that they wanted to go to Harvard or MIT. Americans would answer the same questions with answers like Perdue, or another school. And then he joked about the time he asked his 5 year-old daughter about what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she said, “an elephant.”

It was a great story to say that as Americans, we dream big. We aspire to more than being competent in calculus. We have a broad education and we nurture our children’s talents.

While we have a goal that every third grader will be able to read proficiently, it’s not high enough. We want them to dream. We want them to dream big.

What is important in American education is innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, passion, purpose, and pursuits. The more diverse your place of work, the better it will be. Not because those who are diverse have better ideas, but they will have different ideas to bring to the table and from the combination of several ideas may even emerge a novel one. This would apply to children in a classroom as well. He said technology, talent, and tolerance will lead the way.

He then recalled a first grade teacher that said to him, “Children are like pop-corn. The all pop at different times.” And when we expect children to fall within a line on a chart by measuring them through a standardized tests, we are not teaching them to be innovative, create,  and be entrepreneurs.

“Where’s the hope?” Zhao asks. Then his next slide is a picture of Madonna. She probably didn’t have the highest scores in elementary school, came from a small town in Michigan. Sure she has a niche audience. But that niche exists all over the globe.

Like Daniel Pink said in his book A Whole New Mind, Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning are the skills that will guide the leaders of the 21st century.

As our current president endorses extending the school year, China is looking to shortening it.

So what can we do to acheive this?

Personalize Education toward “the drive to tailor education to individual need, interest and aptitude so as to fulfill every young person’s potential” (Department for Education and Skills (UK), 2004)

We need more kids aspiring to become elephants.




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