Sometimes from the oddest circumstances come the most thought-provoking observations about the state of our country and matters of particular importance to IT professionals. Such a circumstance arose yesterday, when Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell commented on, of all things, the NFL's decision to postpone Sunday night's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings because of the weather.
Speaking on a radio talk show in Philadelphia, Rendell drew this conclusion:
We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.
The hyperbole notwithstanding, Rendell made a point that needed to be made. It reminded me of a post earlier this month by my colleague Susan Hall, "China's Test Scores Send U.S. Education Anxiety into Orbit." The post recounted the results of an international test for 15-year-old students from 65 countries known as the Program for International Student Assessment, which students in Shanghai took for the first time this year. The results? The Chinese students took first place in all three categories: reading, math and science. Hong Kong, incidentally, ranked No. 3 in math and science, and No. 4 in reading. U.S. students, meanwhile, were average: No. 17 in reading, No. 23 in science and No. 31 in math.
I've since become aware that right about the same time those results were made public, news media in the United States began to report with seeming fascination about a school in Florida called Sunset Sudbury School. To say that the school is non-traditional is putting it mildly: There are no teachers, no curriculum and no homework. The kids show up whenever they want, do whatever they want while they're at school and go home whenever they want. I'm not making any of this up.
One needn't be a sinologist to have a pretty good sense that a school like that wouldn't fly in China. There are high expectations in China for what people of all ages should be able to handle and accomplish, and the performance of students in that country reflects that. In the United States, we seem to have lowered the bar on everything from the weather we can withstand at a football game to the performance we expect from our kids in math and science. In fact, many of us have encouraged our kids to give up on math and science altogether because we've given up on our own ability to compete in a global marketplace. Too bad.
It's time that we humble ourselves enough to try to learn from countries like China that are outperforming us not only academically, but economically. China's GDP is growing significantly faster than the U.S. GDP, and China is projected to surpass the United States sometime between 2015 and 2028. No doubt, there is a lot they could learn from us as well, in areas ranging from human rights to the free flow of information. That's what makes a global outlook so critical, and why globalization should be embraced rather than feared. Rendell nailed it. It's time we stopped being such wusses.