Here
and
Now

opinions

Superman’s not coming; U.S. schools need Iron Man

31 Comments
By Bill Costello

The new documentary "Waiting for Superman" currently playing in U.S. theaters explores the failures of American public education: it serves adults instead of kids, teachers’ unions impede progress, and teachers need better training.

However, the movie offers little in the way of solutions. Perhaps what’s needed is a sequel that offers solutions for fixing American public education. The sequel would be titled "Becoming Iron Man."

Solutions do not lie in passively waiting to be rescued by Superman — who is unlikely to show up — but in actively embracing concepts that Iron Man represents: the free market, the hard sciences, and creativity.

Tony Stark, Iron Man’s alter ego, owns a multinational corporation that manufactures military weapons. Stark staunchly believes in the free market. The American public education system needs to embrace free-market principles like competition and choice.

The current system is a government monopoly, and monopolies usually fail their customers. Without the pressure to compete, monopolies have little incentive to serve customers better. Competition spurs competitors to innovate and perform better.

Developing competitive education systems that give families the freedom to choose the schools their kids attend would empower parents to remove their kids from failing schools and place them in successful ones. And it would gradually forces public schools to improve or risk losing students.

While attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Stark character studied the hard sciences: science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). His immense knowledge in those fields enabled him to have a successful career, create a multinational corporation, and contribute to America’s economic and national security.

The American public education system needs to embrace STEM education. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a STEM education bill that focuses on improving education in the STEM fields. However, the federal government has no constitutional authority to meddle with education. Education should be left to the states. Thus, STEM education needs to be embraced at the state level.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the proportion of students obtaining STEM degrees from American universities has dropped from 32% to 27% during the past decade.

At the same time, the percentage of non-American students earning these degrees from American universities has increased dramatically. These facts can be partly attributed to a trickle-down effect that began in American public schools. Not only are we losing ground to non-Americans at our own universities, but we are also falling behind other nations. America is no longer the leader in STEM education.

In absolute numbers, Japan and China are producing more graduates. America’s rate of STEM to non-STEM graduates is roughly 17%, while the international average is nearly 26%. We’re not even keeping pace with some developing countries.

This trend threatens our economic and national security. If it continues unabated, America stands to lose its position as the world leader in scientific and technological innovation. Our global competitive advantage will shift to other nations. And so will our STEM-related jobs.

The American public education system needs to embrace creative thinking skills. Kids need to learn how to be more creative because creativity is increasingly becoming one of the most important skills in the global marketplace.

In "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century," three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas L Friedman states that “the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination.” In "Five Minds for the Future," Harvard professor Howard Gardner describes five kinds of minds — or cognitive abilities — that he believes are critical to success in the 21st century. Among them is the ability to think creatively. In "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future," business guru Daniel H Pink argues that while logical thinkers ruled the first three ages, creative thinkers will rule the upcoming conceptual age.

According to a recent Newsweek article titled “The Creativity Crisis,” research shows that American creativity is declining for the first time. If this trend continues, the nation’s economic and national security will be at risk.

For centuries, America has been the world’s creativity leader. It’s critical that it maintains that position. Creativity leads to innovation and entrepreneurship. So when it declines, it drags innovation and entrepreneurship down with it. If American creativity continues to decline, innovation and entrepreneurship will decline, new jobs will not be created, unemployment rates will grow, gross domestic product will decline, the national debt will grow to unsustainable levels, and military capability will be reduced.

America has rapidly moved up the value chain transforming from an industrial-based economy to a knowledge-based economy to an innovation-based economy. Consequently, many American factory jobs and back-office jobs have moved overseas, and creativity is one of the last skills Americans have to offer the global marketplace.

Several Asian nations now know how to make products and provide services on their own; however, they are still relying on Americans to decide what those products and services should be. These decisions require creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation. This is where America still holds an advantage.

Educational efforts in America need to focus on strengthening creative thinking skills. This will help ensure that American workers will be able to compete globally. And it will help protect the nation’s economic and national security.

The inconvenient truth is that there is a vast difference between the public education system we currently have and the one that we need. Why are we waiting for Superman when what we need are more Starks?

Bill Costello, M.Ed., is the president of U.S.-based Making Minds Matter, LLC and the author of "Awaken Your Birdbrain: Using Creativity to Get What You Want."

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

31 Comments
Login to comment

what are you trying to say ? American schools are failing because they fallow the ideas of Thomas Friedmen or they lack a base in the sciences ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Rather than Superman or Ironman, I think they need Longshot ;) Any luck would be good. Or Dark Phoenix to just destroy everything so they can rebuild from the start.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is a myth that ALL kids need to learn hard sciences, and creativity, etc., or else society will crumble. This myth leads to thinking that ALL Schools must produce huge numbers of graduates, etc.

The truth is that U.S. schools (whether they be a government monopoly or a market based competition) only need the structure to recognize excellence in those that want to succeed.

It only takes one Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Edison to spur an economy to greatness. One out of a thousand is plenty. One per year per school is plenty. The rest can work in their factories.

Educational systems are irrelevent. The true test of a society is whether or not the free market can let those one in a thousand create and sell their ideas.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Who cares.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How come all the countries that are kicking the US's butt in schools do not have free market schools? Why not look at successful education systems (think Scandinavia) and make models based on that?

I tried to go down the path of teacher out of college, but the qualification system is state by state and very hard to understand, the students expect a performer instead of an educator and frankly the money is not good.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Iron Man analogy is clumsily executed to the point of being embarrassingly bad. Cringe inducing stuff.

And what is his point? It kind of starts off as a "privatize education" rant, but then rather incoherently starts spinning on about how states need to "embrace" STEM. Then it becomes about schools "enhancing creative thinking skills". Then comes that paragraph that he devotes mainly to describing the qualifications of the people whose works he briefly mentions for no apparent reason other than to drop their names.

Its just a mess. No coherent argument. No rational structure. Nothing of substance on the topic he purports to discuss, which as noted above is itself completely out of place in a publication called "Japan Today".

He even flubs the facts about Iron Man (Stark's dad, not Tony Stark himself, created the company).

Moderator: Just to clarify one point for you. We have an international readership; more than half our readers reside outside Japan. Furthermore, we are not limited to Japan-only stories. In fact, there isn't one news website in the world that only publishes stories about its host country.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Only a right wing hack like Bill Costello would thing it's as simple students and parents changing schools in a free market. It would surely be possible for upper middle class and wealthy white Americans with means to simply change schools. What about all the people who can't pay for a better school, or who can't move to an area with better schools? In fact, that's little different than it is now. If you're a family of means you can move to a district with better schools.

Free market competition is always the answer for these guys. Nevermind all the countries where government "monopolies" produce good results, such as Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I kind of stopped reading at the first mention of "free market."

I think ideally, every school would be able to provide every student with the same opportunity to succeed. What the kid does with that is their own business.

When I was a student, we fell into a weird category where our school couldn't get money because we had too many students but many of them were poor. So schools in rich districts had great resources and the tiny schools surrounding us had great resources, and we had f-all.

That's education funding for ya ...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Free market competition is always the answer for these guys. Nevermind all the countries where government "monopolies" produce good results, such as Japan.

Japanese schools have something American schools don't have - schools where 95% of the students are Japanese. Schools in the United States that are majority East Asian don't have achievement problems, either.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you're a family of means you can move to a district with better schools.

What does “means“, mean? Not everyone of “means” can just pick up and move. Try selling a house lately?

This lame old worn out line of class warfare is just more muck raking socialist bull$hit. Why should a middleclass family struggling to put their kids through better schools have to also pay taxes to subsidize local public mediocrity centers for the children that no Bush left behind??

Everyone knows that one size fits all government indoctrination centers in the US largely suck because there is no freedom to choose beyond the dumbed-down socially engineered sludge that passes as education in an increasingly stupefied society. Parasitic teachers unions prey upon the misguided notion that government education serves the greater public good, when all they are doing is serving themselves up job security.

Access to scruels where kids get dumber? Fantastic! Access to schools where kids go because they actually want to learn in an atmosphere that is conducive to achieving dreams and goals… No, never! Cant have that!

Take away the incentive to learn, take away competition (someone might get their feelings get hurt), take away excellence, take away choice, take away the market of ideas and trade it for equal opportunity cerebral depravation in the name of altruistic utopian salvation for the stricken victims of systemic unfairness, and you get the American public educastration system, 2010.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japlan, part of my point was, as it is, there is choice. There are private schools. There are high achieving public schools and underachieving public schools. You can say the answer is choice and competition, but to a fair extent, it's already there. It's great for people who can actually choose their school, either because they won a lottery to enter or because their family can afford to live in such a district. And I mean that, it's great that they have the choice. But it only solves the problem for them, not for the nation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I used to think Japanese schools were soooo much more accomplished too, but their system has it's own issues. The education Japanese students receive in the classroom isn't enough--most have to find further instruction outside of school, too, or fail. (hello, juku? rōnin?)

American schools have the wrong focus and ambition--they're all about standardized test scores and making themselves look good; never mind what their average grade point is the rest of the year.

Also, STEM education isn't a panacea. There are different quarters of intelligence. It's ignorant and old-fashioned (and insulting) to suggest the only worthwhile knowledge and success comes out of the math and science areas.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Haha, too funny. If there's anything we know it's that the free market doesn't produce better it produces profitable. Yet, still we stick to the old free market as a silver bullet..... The fault, dear brutus, is not in our stars, but ourselves...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

While attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Stark character studied the hard sciences: science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

OK, so music oriented, or students who are more into drama, or physical education, what?...go jump off a bridge. I mean, what happened to balance. This is old Soviet-style, heavy industry nonsense.

Second, unsupported assertions.

teachers’ unions impede progress, and teachers need better training.

WHERE, in God's NAME is the data for this??!! Who says that they need more training other than this fool!? Where is the data that a union has IMPEDED progress? You take away unions, then you have teachers..well....like having a job like they have here. Working SEVEN days a week, and being RUN INTO THE GROUND on a meager salary at that!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Never mind the fact that private education is a joke. Worked in one at my first job. The administrator would say ANYTHING to get the 300 dollars a month. Thus, I had 7 subjects that I had to teach, and I was only qualified to teach English. I even taught Spanish. I had ALL ages in my class, so I had to give individualized lessons to all of them AT THE SAME TIME.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Here in California, as in most counties around the US, public schools in upper-class districts seem to do just fine. And the private schools? Those aren't po folks packing 'em in. The Adam Smithees use this point to divert public tax dollars into private school vouchers, but when that happens the private schools raise their rates accordingly (free markets!) and it's back to Exclusivity 101 - only this time, with a taxpayer subsidy.

Now, some people would regard this as a good thing. And if you agree, then you too are a Plutocrat. Poor education = a large underclass and cheaper labor for your rich kids' endeavours. Similarly, if you believe the Earth was created in the last 5000 years your influence is useful - as a tool for the GOP. Tea Party tax cutters? There's space in the GOP's tool rack for you, too.

A rising tide lifts all boats - and currently the tide in America is very low indeed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Moderator: Just to clarify one point for you. We have an international readership; more than half our readers reside outside Japan. Furthermore, we are not limited to Japan-only stories. In fact, there isn't one news website in the world that only publishes stories about its host country.

Thank you for the clarification and fair enough, I'm not suggesting that only Japan-related articles are suitable here. Without wishing to stray off topic though, this piece is clearly written to an American audience (and a very specific section of the American audience at that) about an American domestic issue. If it was a particularly good article or one written in a way to make it of interest to a general audience I wouldn't mind so much, but this one fails on both those counts.

Which, much more than the subject matter, is my main problem with this article (and the earlier one published here by the same author): they are simply bad pieces of writing. They are rambling, incoherent messes with no structure, no clear argument and no evidence to back up the myriad claims the author makes.

I mean, I would really love to respond to the substance of the author's arguments, but I'm not even sure that he himself knows exactly what he is talking about. Its just that bad.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You bunch of monkies. Why should Superman come?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

senseiman,

Your 11:08 AM JST post was dead on. Thanks for that. Indeed, this article would find more value lining a bird cage.

Never mind that Costello reaches the vast majority of his "conclusions" via a comic book character (Yes, his thesis is for all intents and purposes, "Let's raise kids who are more like the fictional womanizing, alcoholic, arms dealer Tony Stark."). But in lambasting a painfully simplistic depiction of the current United States education system as some sort of “monopoly” (Read: “Socialist”), while claiming the evidence of the inherent weakness of just such a monopoly is borne out by the rising educational prowess of nations like Japan and China -- nations where the education systems are even MORE centralized that of the US -- good heavens, it just baffles the senses that this article was ever allowed to see the light of day.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"federal government has no constitutional authority to meddle with education" Obama needs to go back & read the Constitution. Hes trying to increase the school day, school year, meddle w/lunch programs, meddle w/who gets fired, etc. As for competition & a free market ed. system, Im all for it & Japan is what sold me on it. In looking for kindergartens for my children, I realized the choice, quality, & catering to the needs of the children greatly increased in kindergartens than the public school. I think ppl should keep their tax $ & invest it in the school of their choice so they can get the best education & a school that best fits their childs needs & family philosophy. But that alone wont save American schools. America is in deep trouble socially w/rampant drug use, single parents, & now a high unemployment rate. I have a friend in America who is a teacher & in the next town over from her there have been a number of murders in the high school that never get on the national news. And the kids cuss out the teachers and violence breaks out every day among the students. Its unbelievable. Money wont help these kids; neither will more teacher training nor school choice. The majority of these kids are from single parent homes & these kids are just totally lost. The sad thing is 90% of this school is all black. All I know that can help them is reestablishing deep family roots from day one. A solid family can take a child a long way educationally but that is up to individuals not the government.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But in lambasting a painfully simplistic depiction of the current United States education system as some sort of “monopoly” (Read: “Socialist”), while claiming the evidence of the inherent weakness of just such a monopoly is borne out by the rising educational prowess of nations like Japan and China -- nations where the education systems are even MORE centralized that of the US -- good heavens, it just baffles the senses that this article was ever allowed to see the light of day.

Bingo LFRagain. No logic to this guy. It's all about the money, instead of focusing on the real problem of the flippin PARENTS and subculture of play, play,play. Where is the endless or even tiny bit of criticism of the parents who allow the kids to play video games for hours upon hours, do not force them to read, or even DISCIPLE their children. Why, we had in Franklin county Florida, below Tallahassee, parents come in and ASSAULT teachers who they thought were to hard on their kids. One time, a teacher thought a good way to discipline the class was to set up a videocamera and just to film the "show" for the parents. Nothing but threats and lawsuits there! But will Bill talk about that? NO! Because for him it is all about capitalism. If someone is NOT getting rich, then it (whatever system it is) must be BAD. In Florida--we solved this problem with CONSTITIONAL admendments--reducing class sizes. Did that four years ago and the repigs are back at it again--trying to INCREASE class sizes. Voted against that nonsense two days ago. Sorry to disappoint you Bill.

Moderator: "Repigs" is not an acceptable term.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Anyone who cites fictional characters and Tom "the Mustache of Understanding" Friedman as intellectual touchstones is not to be taken seriously.

Of course there are bad teachers, bad administrators and bad schools. However, scratch a bad school and you'll find a student body comprised mostly of children from dysfunctional households from bad neighborhoods who don't value education. There is next to nothing a single teacher in an overcrowded classroom can hope to do as a counterweight to such circumstances.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It humors me that this man has a Masters in Education. The big problem in our schools.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Like the movie first referred to, no real solutions are provided. And sorry, Japan does not produce good results. In university system where Professors write graduate papers for students, and it is impossible to flunk, Japan succeeds in producing artificial results that cannot be relied upon. We used to think that Japanese lived longer because of fudged reports about age demographics (242,000 missing over the age of 100), and that their students are smarter (all schools here avoid real education in favour of test prepping students.) America is moving in the same direction with regard to education: excessive testing which has been proven to hinder intellectual growth in students will now become the norm so that we can produce reports for international media that show "academic" achievement on an easy-to-read graph. Read Krashen for some real ideas about how to fix the school system. It is not in ruins now, it is in the process of being ruined.

CONservatives want graphic comparison reports because reading takes too long. They promote extreme market principles because they have no conscience that leads them to social responsibility. Education is not about producing market-ready robots, it is about teaching children to understand the world around, something that CONservatives find revolting.

Don't talk about violence in schools as an American problem. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world for young people. Just as many kids are dying here, but by their own hand because this society treats them as cogs in the socially inept system of obey the one above, sit down, shut up and repeat after me.

I am Canadian, not American.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"> But in lambasting a painfully simplistic depiction of the current United States education system as some sort of “monopoly” (Read: “Socialist”), while claiming the evidence of the inherent weakness of just such a monopoly is borne out by the rising educational prowess of nations like Japan and China -- nations where the education systems are even MORE centralized that of the US -- good heavens, it just baffles the senses that this article was ever allowed to see the light of day.

Bingo LFRagain. No logic to this guy. It's all about the money, instead of focusing on the real problem of the flippin PARENTS and subculture of play, play,play. Where is the endless or even tiny bit of criticism of the parents who allow the kids to play video games for hours upon hours, do not force them to read, or even DISCIPLE their children. Why, we had in Franklin county Florida, below Tallahassee, parents come in and ASSAULT teachers who they thought were to hard on their kids. One time, a teacher thought a good way to discipline the class was to set up a videocamera and just to film the "show" for the parents. Nothing but threats and lawsuits there! But will Bill talk about that? NO! Because for him it is all about capitalism. If someone is NOT getting rich, then it (whatever system it is) must be BAD. In Florida--we solved this problem with CONSTITIONAL admendments--reducing class sizes. Did that four years ago and the republicans are back at it again--trying to INCREASE class sizes. Voted against that nonsense two days ago. Basically, republicans like Bill do not care about class sizes, they care about money. Sorry to disappoint you Bill.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Still trying to figure out what Mr. Costello is trying to say. America needs to produce more scientists and engineers. Really? No kidding? In no way do I claim to know the answer, but one thing has to be said. Much of America's problem is unfortunately cultural. Unless one can afford private schools that sometimes have higher tuition than private universities, high school in the US is primarily a social activity. Who is more popular, the math dork or the rad surfer dude? Why study pre-cal when you can be cool as a skater? On average, high school is about being cool rather than learning. I speak from experience. I was far more popular during my junior and senior years, after I became an outlaw stoner...Perceptions must be changed. Being smart needs to be considered cool, and that requires a popular media culture that portrays it as such. As long as kids turn on the tube and learn that being educated is for geeks, this problem will continue. And it will not really matter what teachers do. Kids who are not interested will not put in the necessary work.

One other issue that needs to be addressed is honesty in the grading system. As I am learning painfully, only A's are acceptable. B's keep kids out of the better universities even if the student has super high test scores and AP's. Students need to understand that screwing off in high school (and yes, it seems a 3.5 average is considered screwing off. By believing the grading scale and not pushing harder, I clearly failed my own child, who now sleeps about 3 hours a night trying to repair the damage done during freshman and sophomore year) has a very negative impact on future opportunities. Teachers will tell you that a B is good. No, it is not, and C should not stand for average, but rather "catastrophic."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Another thing is that getting into a state school now, at least in Florida, is REALLY hard. Need a 5.0 now to get into UF. Perfect grades and then a lot of volunteer stuff and a really high SAT score. Simply more people and more students competing for the same amount of desks. And from what I heard from my sister, the stuff they are learning is difficult. Even the tutors have a hard time keeping up. So, while there are more students flunking high school as there are simply more and more people, there are more people doing great. Kind of complicates things doesn't Bill. Don't want to talk about those successes, do we?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lol, they need more ironman. : )

0 ( +0 / -0 )

teachers’ unions impede progress, and teachers need better training.

WHERE, in God's NAME is the data for this??!! Who says that they need more training other than this fool!? Where is the data that a union has IMPEDED progress? You take away unions, then you have teachers..well....like having a job like they have here. Working SEVEN days a week, and being RUN INTO THE GROUND on a meager salary at that!

Teacher's Unions (as are ANY union) are staunchly against any sort of performance assessment that could get teachers (and therefore union rank and file) dismissed. A union's primary purpose, no matter what they tell the public, is to increase membership. The higher the percentage of union members to the overall work force, the more "clout" the union wields. Teacher's unions don't want to hear about poorly performing teachers because they don't CARE how the teachers perform. They only care that the teacher is a union member. As long as they are a warm body and paying union dues, then (in the union's eyes) there is NO valid reason for terminating a teacher's contract. Evaluating a teacher's performance through examining the student's scores is considered an anthema to teacher's unions but I've seen it first hand... Out of five teachers in a grade level at one of the schools I work at, 4 had classes that only had one or two kids fail a standardized test, while the fifth had half her class fail. The teachers' union would squawk loudly if anyone tried to discipline this teacher because of how poorly her students performed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The teachers' union would squawk loudly if anyone tried to discipline this teacher because of how poorly her students performed.

Maybe that is because there are so many other factors to consider! Like did her students STUDY? Maybe they were all on the flippin baseball or football team which did not give them time to study. Now, do we still want to discipline that teacher. Or maybe her students were good but bad test takers. Lot of people like that and I am one, but while I suck at tests I can write and publish two books a year! Or maybe the parents of those students do not give a flip about the education of their children. As in one post above, that was clearly the case. So, the ONLY thing that could be done is to FILM that teacher's class and then really determine if SHE/HE is the problem. That is all. But to strip away the union, and have a private education--that is one huge step to hell.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The baseball or football teams do not all attend one class, they're spread throughout the classes. Similarly, the classes are not organized by academic apptitude. Each class is a mixture of varying apptitudes so each teacher should be expected to have similar results - ASSUMING the teachers are similarly competent. As I said before, when the classes of three out of four teachers for a given grade average scores in the 80's and the fourth class averages in the 60's, THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE TEACHER IN THE FOURTH CLASS. But the unions don't want to hear that.

There was a great article on this topic in the Washington Post over the weekend co-authored by the school superintendents of some of the largest school divisions in the country. Please give it a read. Go to the Washington Post's website and search for the article "How to Fix our Schools: A Manifesto" Very interesting reading.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites