I was recently at a conference where I saw a presentation by Robert Compton on the theme of Two Million Minutes, which is roughly the amount of time a student spends in grades 9-12. Compton is a self-made multimillionaire who now has the luxury of time, which he uses to travel and to make films that dramatize the condition of American education in the context of worldwide education. The statistics are sobering. According to Compton, there are 54 million high school students in America, 194 million in China, and 212 million in India. And his argument is that in addition to being dramatically outnumbered, American students are drastically underprepared. His core argument — and it would be a hard one for me to refute, based on what I see going on around me — is that American students don't seem to even realize that they are in a competition, much less how far behind they are. In his presentation he presented what he called America's four great education myths:
- Our kids are more well-rounded.
- Asian education is rote memorization.
- Our kids are more creative and more innovative.
- U.S. education is the best in the world.
He then presented data, student schedules, and samples of student work that demonstrated fairly convincingly that all of these statements are in fact based on false assumptions and misinformation. He then showed us an edited version of his film, Two Million Minutes, (trailer here) in which he profiled two American students, two Indian students, and two Chinese students. The American students, although stars in their own worlds, did not come off well.
In yesterday's post I quoted Galen Guengerich's meditation on "the steadiness of days." Gungerich uses the Twitter prompt "What are you doing?" as a framing device for an investigation of the ethics of time. I walked out the Compton presentation more convinced than ever that as
educators we have to engage our students in some discussion about what time might mean, and how they might use it in a way that enables them to create value. Taken in this context, the seemingly innocent "What are you doing?" might turn out to be the most essential of essential questions.