The Goal of True Education

A decade ago, against all odds, I came to the United States to pursue my higher education. In China, I was denied the possibility to enroll in graduate school, because I refused to take and pass a political test that required memorizing the fundamental doctrine of Marxism and Communism. In the end, I was forced to resign from my teaching position at a university in Beijing, because I wanted to enroll in a two-year Master’s program in the United States. Thanks to this great country, I received my Master’s degree within three years and a doctoral degree within six years.

Education should be a civil right. However, I grew up in a society dominated by the superior-inferior relationship between men and women. My mother could not finish her elementary school because her father wanted her to support her brothers so they could complete their secondary education. My relatives and friends in China could not understand why a woman like me needed to go to graduate school and have “more than enough” education. This misconception comes from lack of understanding of the goal of true education, which is not only about acquiring knowledge, but also about dignity and freedom.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” When we believe that each child has different strengths and interests, “All students should have equal access to an education that maximizes their individual potential.” Equal access to education takes place at home, in school and in society at large. In my dissertation study, I used the early childhood longitudinal data (ECLS-K: 2011) and found that among children whose home language is not English, children who have preschool center-based learning experiences perform higher in math from kindergarten to the second grade than similar children without preschool. Children from Spanish-speaking families benefit greatly when parents teach them numbers and frequently engage in math-related home activities.

In my view, data analysis can show how much education can improve the lives of children. In the current educational system, we often seem trapped by the lack of tools to measure the effectiveness of true education, and unable to properly inform our school leaders and legislators. For instance, when students graduate from a school system, should we test their content knowledge, or should we also include the evaluation of their employable skills? When policies lean toward respecting the choice of parents and students, should we prioritize providing program-based choice, or should we focus on choice of different public school? When school shootings happen time and again, do we have data to support appropriate school disciplinary approaches, or do we have any evidence to help us break through our conventional thinking and look into some new elements, such as social emotional learning?

In my new role, I will analyze some national data and try to shed light upon current issues related to students’ achievement and education policies. I believe that in doing so, data do serve the goal of true education. As Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey said, “Data that sit unused are no different from data that were never collected in the first place.”