John Q. Harrington shared a very popular first guest post recently on creative thinking and 9 Ways to Amplify Creativity. Q is back today with 7 reasons why he's concerned the No Child Left Behind law is putting the US behind in the creative thinking and problem solving skills we need to compete. Here's Q!

7 Reasons No Child Left Behind Is a Bigger Threat than a Government Shut Down by John Q. Harrington

John-Q-HarringtonThe biggest threat to the future of America is not global warming, not an errant meteor, not even the maddening Government Shut DownThe biggest treat to our country and our children’s future is the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND law.

What, you say?  Hasn’t that been around forever?  And hasn’t it helped to improve test scores?

Yes, it seems like it’s been around forever and yes, it has helped to improve test scores.  But higher test scores are more about memorizing than learning.

7 Threats to Creative Thinking from No Child Left Behind

1. It destroys original thinking, our secret weapon.

The secret sauce for America’s success over the last few centuries has been our love of independent thinking.  We have an almost cultish reverence for those who thought differently and changed the world.  Edison, Ford, Bell, and Jobs are among our most famous, but millions of original thinkers help us to keep reinventing our world and staying relevant every single day.

2. It places a premium on standardized test scores.

Like so many things, No Child Left Behind started with the best of intentions: to elevate the learning of all children by assuring they receive the same standard high quality education.  Unfortunately, the only way to measure the result initiating a series of standardized tests for all students.  If you scored well on the test, you must be doing well.  If you scored poorly on the test, you must be falling behind.  Schools that scored well were rewarded.  Ones that did poorly were chastised and eventually shut down.  So, understandably, schools began to put major emphasis on getting their students to score well on the test.

3. Tests measure memorization skills, not learning.

The MOST important thing we can teach every child is how to think and problem solve.   Even though free form thought is a little messy and not totally predictable, it is what makes us great - or at least it used to make us great.  We need to teach children how to think so they can solve the problems no one knows the answers to yet.   Teaching them to only memorize teaches them to do what has always been done.  And in our world of exponential change, that is a recipe for disaster!!

4. The need for memorization is rapidly moving toward obsolescence.

Why is it critical for children to memorize historical facts and figures when the answers are readily available within seconds on the internet?  Isn’t it much more important to teach them WHY wars and events came to pass and make them think about HOW they might reach a better outcome when they’re older and in charge?

5. It’s the last straw for great teachers.

I’ve always been surrounded by great teachers. I’ve lived next to them, been friends with them, dated them.  Even married one and have a child who’s one of them.  But in all my years of being around great teachers, I’ve never seen them so frustrated and disheartened.  They’ve persevered through low pay, insufficient supplies, and decreased power in the classroom.  But No Child Left Behind hit great teachers like a Mike Tyson punch to the gut. Really great teachers hate teaching to achieve high test scores as much as students hate learning that way. Great teachers find highly imaginative ways to involve students in their subjects, climb inside it, and truly understand the subject, not just parrot back facts and figures about it.

6. It dumbs down how all teachers teach. 

As standardized test scores become the all-important factor in education, standardized ways of teaching are being shoved down educators’ throats. So not only have we knocked the original thinking out of our children, we’ve knocked it out of our teachers!   As a result the best teachers are leaving after a few years, retiring early, or changing careers in droves.  And that only accelerates the downward spiral created by No Child Left Behind.

7. It gives our kids knives, then sends them into a gunfight. 

Global competition is fierce and it’s only going to get more intense.  We’re turning our children into cannon fodder in this global battle if we send them into battle armed only with memorized facts and figures.

It isn’t cost prohibitive to fix NO Child Left Behind

Fixing No Child Left Behind can be done and done affordably.  A recent article in Wired Magazine showed how a small school in a Mexican border town slum totally turned things around by trying a completely different approach.  I’m not saying their approach is the best education option, but I am saying No Child Left Behind definitely is NOT. If a poor Mexican village can figure this out, surely we can do better, too.

The goal of No Child Left Behind was right, but the outcome is not.  So let’s cut our losses and move on to some new, more imaginative way of educating our next generation.

Who knows?  If we teach our children how to think better, maybe we won’t have to tolerate the insanity of another government shut down in the future. – Q


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