We need to foster a diversity of talents

First, much research has shown that what makes a nation or a community prosperous is a diversity of talents (Florida 2002; Chua 2007). Even honeybee colonies with more genetic diversity are more productive (Mattila and Seeley 2007). A society cannot rely only on one type of talent to meet the challenges of the sophisticated, complex, and ever-changing economy, which constantly needs innovations and new industries (Kane 2010). If America had produced just one kind of talent wherein all individuals possess the same skills and knowledge, we would not have Apple® or Google™ or Facebook, or the Internet for that matter.

Second, because of globalization and advancement in technology, today’s society has such diverse needs for different talents that any individual, no matter how unique he or she is, can make a contribution and be successful. While a Lady Gaga may have been of little use in the agricultural society when most people were worried about feeding themselves, today talents like hers are in great demand. Just look at the size of the entertainment industry. Hence, an individual does not have to be one of many and compete by becoming better than millions of others in a narrow spectrum of abilities.

Finally, by necessity, globalization compels us to be unique and different because of the entry of billions of individuals who may have the same abilities and demand less. In other words, if one American wants to compete with a Chinese or Indian person, he has to offer something qualitatively different to global employers (Pink 2005; National Center on Education and the Economy 2007).

Therefore a decentralized system with strong local control and professional autonomy is an effective way to cultivate the diversity of talents that will help keep a nation, a community, and an individual competitive. In contrast, a national common curriculum, enforced through high-stakes common assessment, is just the poison that kills creativity, homogenizes talents, and reduces individuality through an exclusive focus on the prescribed content and teaching-to-the-test by schools and teachers, as we have already seen with NCLB. There is no question that education should help develop some common basics for the purpose of citizenship, but that is the extent to which government can mandate. And for hundreds of years, despite the lack of a national curriculum, the decentralized education system has performed that function well.

Yong Zhao via http://zhaolearning.com/2012/04/24/mass-localism-for-improving-america%E2%80%99s-education

One Response to “We need to foster a diversity of talents”

  1. Beth Rabbitt (@BethRabbitt) Reply August 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Wow. I’m a fan of choice and autonomy, but this piece favors academic argument over reality. Localism could work if resources — people, time, money– were fairly distributed and a common definition of what the “common basics” are was known. With common standards and a baseline expectation for literacy and numeracy, we create a shared benchmark. Sure local agencies should be free to get there and beyond in any way they want, and that’s where the innovation challenge should lie.

    I checked out the original post and note immediately the lack of the words “equity” and “gap”. How can you even begin to make recommendations for our ed system’s future without accounting for the fact that our pathologically local systems have contributed to huge opportunity and achievement disparities? Zhou needs to account for that.

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