Education: Are we the ones with the right idea?
I am about to speak heresy. I'm also about to contradict things I've said in other posts, but you know what they say about consistency.
I've been thinking about this since November when Mark Tabor did a post on the film Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination. That film compares education in America, China, and India by following around students from each country. Although I haven't seen the film, my impression from what I've read about it is that American education comes off as much less rigorous and American students as much less serious than our foreign counterparts. I also get the impression that the implications this film attempts to convey are ominous. But a funny thought occurred to me: maybe we're doing it right.
Since long before I became a teacher, American education has consistently been blasted for being woefully deficient in academics. In fact, in March of 1958 Life Magazine did a feature with a nearly identical concept to that of Two Million Minutes. They followed around a couple of students from the Soviet Union and a couple of students from the United States. While the Soviets were busy doing complicated physics and chemistry experiments, the Americans seemed only to be concerned about the upcoming sock-hop. Anyone reading those articles must have wondered how America could ever win the Cold War. But we did!
Anyone reading Nation at Risk in 1983 would probably wonder how the United States could possibly remain a world economic power 25 years later. But we are! And it was reported in September that those bozos who have been coming out of our schools make up the most productive work-force in the world.
Every year, I see former mediocre students who have become much more successful than I ever thought possible. For some reason, their not having wowed me with their performance in American History when I had them as tenth-graders didn't hold them back very much. Amazing! At some point, they realized what they wanted to do, and once they did, they went after it and achieved it. I don't know if it's something having to do with American practicality, but that seems to happen a lot.
There is great value in academics, and I don't think there's any question that a lot of other nations put much more emphasis on them than we do. I have to admit that I've always felt guilty about that. But a lot of our students get part-time jobs and put a significant amount of time into them, and other students put an incredible amount of time and energy into high school sports. That doesn't happen in other nations. But maybe there's more value in those things than we realize. Maybe the fact that we don't emphasize academics as much as those other nations, which allows our students to put so much time and effort into those other things, is actually a good thing.