Are Private Schools Stifling American Innovation?
Costs continue to rise at the nation's private colleges and universities, but while soaring tuition gives most of us sticker shock, paying $40,000 a year as early as kindergarten is the norm for many families in the 1 percent, who assume their children will receive a better, safer education in private school. But according to writer and cultural critic Naomi Wolf, parents who treat private-school education as a commodity stunt their children's long-term prospects.
"Many educators in these schools complain that parents'—and, increasingly, students'—attitude to educators is that they are consuming a costly luxury product, and that the teachers work for them," Wolf writes in The Guardian. She describes students telling school administrators that "you work for me; I am your employer."
Wolf also cites a trend of private schools allowing students to complete assignments over and over again until they earn a final grade that satisfies them. Then, she writes, students wind up thinking of education as a consumer product that doesn't involve bad grades or trouble with the material—an attitude they carry with them into college. With this kind of attitude, it's no wonder college students don't study as much as their professors think they should or complain when they're required to answer questions in class.
The result is a generation with no experience overcoming obstacles. Research shows that failure and struggle are crucial to learning and success, but if young people grow up without problems to fix, if they're not forced to learn critical thinking skills and how to tap their creativity to solve challenges, they stop innovating.
And that, in turn, hurts the United States' abilities to compete with its global peers. Kids growing up in China, India, and other emerging economies, Wolf writes, are being "intellectually toughened" by their experiences with "demanding teachers, a tradition of educational authority undiluted by consumerism, rigorous standards, and the hardships of economic stringency." So although American parents think they're giving their children every advantage by removing adversity from school, they may actually be destroying the qualities that set students up for success. If the trend continues, she writes, "the rest of the world is about to eat American kids' lunch."
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