Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Kumon proves market success in education

Posted: September 19, 2009 by administrator in Education
Tags: , ,

USA Education in BriefAt the end of my youngest son’s year in kindergarten, his teacher came to us and told us our son was behind and perhaps should not move on to first grade.  His mom and I were devastated.  We felt guilty. With our older son, we had home schooled him and enrolled him in a small private kindergarten that emphasized math and reading skills. But then we were poor college students with more time than money.  Later we both had careers, more money, but less time, so we just enrolled our youngest in school and assumed everything would be fine.

After hearing the bad news, we took our younger son to a private education specialist for testing.  Although he is very smart, he was a little academically “immature” compared to others his age and would likely benefit from special tutoring.  The specialist recommended something we had never heard of – Kumon.

My first thought was we would invest in the tutoring until he was caught up, and then discontinue making the investment.  Then something happened that I did not anticipate.  I was impressed with the improvement I saw and became very interested in the “Kumon method” and the man who created it, Toru Kumon.

toru kumonToru Kumon was a Japanese educator who began to develop a special math curriculum after his son came home from school one day very upset about a bad math grade.  Toru Kumon worked with his son daily after school with worksheets that he had designed. The method is actually quite simple.  They begin at a level the student shows mastery (even if it is below grade level) so they enjoy success right away. Repetition of fundamental skills is believed to build a strong foundation. They gradually move the student up as they have achieved absolute mastery of the previous skill set. Work is timed, not to race the clock, but to demonstrate that mastery. Tutors and parents correct the student’s work on the spot so the student has instant feedback and can do the corrections, which it is believed to make them learn more easily from their mistakes.  Students who stick with the Kumon method generally have higher test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.) than student who don’t and very often excel beyond their grade level. By the time my son was in the second grade none of his classmate could match his excellence with the times-tables.

Toru Kumon was born around the same time that the Meiji period was coming to an end.  The Meiji period, and the periods to follow, marked a rapid push of modernization in Japan.  Toru Kumon commented in one of his writings that he was amazed by the variety of clothing that was currently available.  He said that when he was a child, it was very hard to find cloths that fit well.  Japan was able to manufacture a great number of textiles, but sizes were limited.  Unfortunately, he thought, the evolution that Japan’s industry was able to make was not matched in field of education.  Japan could provide schools for everyone, yet not every child is educated.  Toru Kumon believed that learning was a very individualistic endeavor.  He said, “fit the shoe to the child, not the child to the shoe”.  In a sense, what he is saying here is that the market provides for education better than the state.

kumonThe success of Kumon Learning Centers is a testament to this thesis. Toru Kumon opened his first learning center in Japan in 1956.  Today there are more than 26,000 Kumon Centers in 46 countries and over 4 million students.  I doubt there is one nation-state today, especially ours in the United States, which can boast of that kind of success in the field of education.  Indeed, there seems to be growing dissatisfaction by teachers, parents and students with our federal Department of Education.  During the last thirty years costs in education have skyrocketed while student performance has plummeted.  Thirty percent of all college freshman must take remedial course work to “catch up”, which is sort of like paying twice for a basic education, isn’t it?  The most outspoken opponents of the most recent federal education mandate, “No Child Left Behind”, are the teachers themselves.

educationHenry David Thoreau once said, “That government is best that governs not at all.”  I think we should all agree to adhere to this maxim, at least in the field of education.  Thoreau went on to say that he wasn’t asking at once for no government, but only a better government.  Here too, can’t we agree that we need at once better education?  We shouldn’t ignore that freedom, not centralized state control, has made our country great.  Just as we demand the separation of church and state, we should demand separation of the economy from the state; separation of health care from the state; and especially, separation of education from the state.