The introduction begins with a simple listing of the purpose and aspiration of schools. Schools should prepare people to 1. maximize their potential, 2. join the workforce, 3. participate in civic processes, and 4. appreciate diversity. This vision is largely unrealized, but why? The authors quickly list and debunk a series of common answers: Schools are underfunded, they lack appropriate technology, students and their families are not engaged, teachers’ pedagogy is ineffective, teacher unions prevent improvement, some combination of the above, and/or we use flawed metrics to measure school success. Each of these possibilities, though perhaps occasionally true, fails to provide a definitive answer to why schools are not better. Furthermore, Americans are often being replaced by high-achieving Israelis, Indians, and Chinese in competitive fields (they cite Silicon Valley jobs), so the proof is in the pudding: other countries are outperforming us.
The reason, according to these authors, has to do with motivation. In a healthy and prosperous economy like America’s, there is not a lot of extrinsic motivation to study difficult subjects in order to gain access to guaranteed high-paying jobs, and the way those subjects are taught is not intrinsically motivating. Other countries with less robust or promising economies tend to have students who are more highly motivated to get STEM degrees, even though their teaching may not be any more intrinsically motivating. Without the extrinsic motivation, unsurprisingly, American students tend to be somewhat unmotivated to learn in schools that are not intrinsically motivating. And with that, the stage is set for the rest of the book: How can schools help students learn in an intrinsically motivating way?
Some big questions about education come up both explicitly and implicitly in this introduction: What is the purpose of schools? How should schools’ success be measured? To what extent can insights from other fields (i.e. business) be usefully applied to schools? These are good questions to be asking, and are certainly up for debate.
My initial reader’s response is that this seems interesting, but somewhat simplistic so far. For example, the authors seem to accept unquestioningly the binary construction of motivation, and seem to trust that international comparative test scores and the demographics of Silicon Valley workers are sufficient indicators of schools’ success/failure. Although they list a variety of purposes for school, the one that really seems to matter to them is the second–joining the workforce and contributing to the economy. That’s not necessarily bad, and is probably to be expected from people approaching the topic from the business field.
What do you think so far?