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November 23, 2005

Comments

Chuckles

This is really funny: Japanese Govt schools are trying to implement their twisted ideas about American schools (Yutori Kyoiku) and Americans are advocating that America should copy the so lovely Japanese model. Someone is crazy here. I agree with your take: The entire slew of "Monster Children" books that have been proliferating in Japan is a testament to the failure of the Public School system in that country; a system that Staples is advocating that America copy! As in life generally, so in Education: Choice and self determination produce far greater results.

America hasnt changed much since the days of Hofstadter: I think a way to remedy this might be to make the Classics mandatory for all American high school students - a form of cultural re-orientation if you will. But what hope is there for that when Jerusalem usurps the place of Athens in the national thought?

Its really funny: The anti-intellectual Americans are most open to learned immigrants; while the Xenophobic Japanese rush ahead with their books. Very compensatory. I wonder which system will survive in the long run. My money is on the USA.

Factory

"Yes, dear reader, perhaps the fault lies with YOU as a parent inculcating the wrong values in your children by showing a lot more excitement at the prospect of watching a Terrell Owens touchdown than at reading the latest copy of the New York Review of Books."
1 - we are not all Americans.
2 - Erm, I don't think it would be too much of an assumption that your readers would actually rather a book than a ball.. :)

Won Joon Choe

I agree with you, Abiola. Unlike many Westerners, you understand the power and influence of the particular (e.g. culture) in an increasingly universalistic age.

But Mr. Staples and his ilk need not fret too much. To reverse Locke's famous formula (one which would be endorsed by both Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve--the former with resignation, of course), in the end all will become America.

Andrew

What do you think of how the US and UK compare on anti-intellectualism? A British friend of mine thinks the UK is more anti-intellectual, I think referring specifically to culture of "educational achievement" which he found more pervasive in America than Britain. I found this a bit hard to believe, but perhaps we each have a worse opinion of the place where we grew up...

"Besides there are many ways to make a lot of money in America, most of which don't require high test scores"

Isn't this true outside of America as well?

Andrew

One more thought -

"why exactly it is America hasn't witnessed the rise of an indigenous equivalent of the "cram" [sic] schools"

We do have SAT prep classes in high school and MCAT/LSAT/GRE/etc classes in college, run by Kaplan et al. These are of course pale shadows of "juku" schools, but it suggests that when necessity presents itself people will sign up for after-school prep classes - even Americans. SAT classes focus on test-taking strategies and vocabulary buildup, but I'm sure if the SAT tested specific knowledge in history, literature, etc., you'd see a corresponding increase in the material covered in SAT classes - to the point (or beyond) what you see in MCAT classes which review the entire pre-med curriculum. Which suggests that the driving factor behind Japan's education obsession is the high-stakes testing - though such testing surely depends on a high-education-valuing culture - self-reinforcing cycle, I guess.

Frank McGahon

[A British friend of mine thinks the UK is more anti-intellectual,]

I'd say he's right. All it takes to earn the sobriquet "Profess-aah" is to pass a few O levels (and perhaps wear glasses).

I don't know enough about the education system in the US but for my money the UK system compares unfavourably to the Irish system. The Leaving cert (taken by 80%) covers a minimum of six, usually seven general subjects, Maths, English and Irish being compulsory, while the A levels (can't find how many take these, but I'd say it's less than 80%), are overly specialised and include such subjects as Film Studies, Media Studies, World development, Social policy etc.

Frank McGahon

Sorry, I should add that only three or four subjects are studied for A levels and none are compulsory, leading I'd say to a general population, with, at best, O level/GCSE understanding of, say Maths and English, even including those who go on to University on the back of A levels in non-core subjects.

Abiola Lapite

"What do you think of how the US and UK compare on anti-intellectualism?"

Neither is the equivalent of a France where bookishness is worshipped, but I have to say America is worse, not only in terms of how popular "egghead" baiting is in politics, but also in regards to the tremendous emphasis many American schools place on athletics to the exclusion of all else. Athletes are practically deified in the average American school, especially the football players, and it isn't a caricature to say that in many towns one finds football teams with high schools attached to them, rather than vice versa. Then there is also the long American tradition of celebrating backyard tinkerers and dropout billionaires to consider: no country celebrates the myth of the entirely self-made man like the United States, and there's a good reason why the ridiculous myth that Einstein was a failure at school is so popular amongst ordinary Americans.

"Isn't this true outside of America as well?"

The point is that nowhere is it more true than in America. Look at the British, French, Japanese or Korean financial and political elite and tell me what percentage *didn't* go to Oxbridge, ENA, Todai/Kyodai or Seoul National/Yonsei. The Ivy League simply doesn't dominate American life to anything like the same degree.

"Which suggests that the driving factor behind Japan's education obsession is the high-stakes testing - though such testing surely depends on a high-education-valuing culture - self-reinforcing cycle, I guess."

I can't agree. The emphasis on education has always been there right from the Heian days, and even at the height of Japan's feudal era it was still expected that a warrior master the way of the pen as well as the sword; just look at the cultural resonance of the word "sensei" (先生) and tell me that "teacher" carries anything like the same level of respect. When we turn to Korea and China the deep historical roots of "education above all" is even more apparent: in sharp contrast to France's "noblesse de robe" and "noblesse d'epee", Korea's Yangban class always regarded prominence based on scholarship as superior to that earned by fighting (which is one reason why Korea was so vulnerable to invasion), and I hardly need remind you of just how much doing well in the Chinese civil service exams meant. The ideal of the scholar as the epitome of what it means to be a man has enjoyed a broad popular appeal for centuries in that part of the world, and I think one sees this reflected in what values parents inculcate into their children. Just look at the ridiculous article in the post just two before this one, in which white parents were said to be moving out of Cupertino because the Asian students were putting "too much" emphasis on academics - right there is a clear statement of a difference in values, and it is one I'm convinced feeds straight into differences in school performance.

PS: This essay writer puts the typical American attitude well.

http://www.asu.edu/english/writingprograms/printersdevil/pd2003-004/2nd102.doc

["The football team from Mountain View High School won the Arizona State Championship last year. Again. Unbeknownst to the vast majority of the school’s student body, so did the Science Bowl Team, the Speech and Debate Team, and the Academic Decathlon team. The football players enjoyed the attentions of an enthralled school, complete with banners, assemblies, and even video announcements in their honor, a virtual barrage of praise and downright deification . As for the three champion academic teams, they received a combined total of around ten minutes of recognition, tacked onto the beginning of a sports assembly. Nearly all of the graduating seniors will remember the name and escapades of their star quarterback; nearly none of them will ever even realize that their class produced Arizona’s first national champion in Lincoln-Douglass Debate. After all, why should they? He and his teammates were “just the nerds.”"]

Andrew

" just look at the cultural resonance of the word "sensei" (先生) and tell me that "teacher" carries anything like the same level of respect."

Fascinating... 先生 in Chinese only means "mister" or "sir"... But I do know what you mean - I once taught citizenship classes for (mostly elderly) Chinese immigrants to the U.S. and they all called me "teacher" with this very respectful voice which I found very strange since they were all at least twice as old as I was.

But I guess my point was that reproducing the high-stakes testing in America could reproduce the cram schools to a small degree, even if the different culture would prevent it from going all the way. Though, I suppose it might end up just driving students out of school entirely (certainly one argument advanced against high school graduation exams was that it would drive students to drop out rather than finish high school).

"The Ivy League simply doesn't dominate American life to anything like the same degree."

I see your general point, but doesn't this merely indicate that the Ivy League holds less of a chokehold on academic excellence and/or social connections to the elite than Oxbridge, ENA, Todai/Kyodai or Seoul National/Yonsei do? Or would you make the same point with the "top 20" colleges on the US News ranking (or whatever)?

Abiola Lapite

"doesn't this merely indicate that the Ivy League holds less of a chokehold on academic excellence and/or social connections to the elite than Oxbridge, ENA, Todai/Kyodai or Seoul National/Yonsei do?"

Wouldn't the better question here be *why* those places have such a much greater chokehold on "academic excellence and/or social connections to the elite"? As it is all you've done is rephrase my statement as a question.

"Or would you make the same point with the "top 20" colleges on the US News ranking (or whatever)?"

No. There are plenty of universities in America doing excellent work, not just a few big names, and none of the likes of Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak or Michael Dell went to a big name school to get to where they are. Look at the backgrounds of Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan or even rat-catcher/thief Tom DeLay and tell me humble backgrounds are much of an obstacle to high office in America.

Julian Elson

I'm wondering how to react to this old quote I saw from John Adams: "The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." -- Letter to Abigail

Andrew

John Adams was descended from the Puritans, who valued education most highly out of the four major groups that settled the British colonies (New England Puritans, Royalists in the Chesapeake Bay, Quakers in the Delaware Valley, and Scots-Irish in the "backcountry). The Puritan culture persisted in New England and the northern states settled by Yankees even after Puritanism devolved into Unitarianism. It's no coincidence that Boston is such a college town or that it was known as the "Athens of America" - or that the most football-obsessed high schools are probably in the south and west.

Andrew

"There are plenty of universities in America doing excellent work"

Well, right, that was my point - that the point about how much of the American elite went to Ivy League schools shows not so much that the American elite is uneducated (and thus that education is relatively unimportant to getting ahead in America), but rather that there are a lot of universities outside the Ivy League that provide a great education. As for why academic excellence in America is not as concentrated as Oxbridge et al, it doesn't seem to me that this is explained by America being a less intellectual place than the UK.

Abiola Lapite

"the point about how much of the American elite went to Ivy League schools shows not so much that the American elite is uneducated (and thus that education is relatively unimportant to getting ahead in America), but rather that there are a lot of universities outside the Ivy League that provide a great education"

No, actually what it shows is that American has a very strong pulling power for foreign researchers and grad students, which allows even its second tier universities to enjoy excellent research environments despite some thorougly mediocre undergraduate student bodies. It isn't in the least any sort of testament to the intellectual proclivities of American college kids who would gladly drink and f**k their 4 years away if they could get away with it.

dsquared

[ Japanese students don't do well because of their stultifyingly regimented schools and unvarying curricula but in spite of it, and proper thanks ought to go instead to the totally unregulated "juku" after-school prep system which is parallel to the government-provided setup]

hmmmm ... but France has equally stultifying and regimented schools, no unregulated after-school prep system (though I did see adverts on the Metro for a service called "apres l'ecole" last time I was there, the services they were offering were "gouter - diner - bain" with "soutien scolaire" in somewhat smaller type) and almost as good educational outcomes. I think that the advantages of stultification and regimentation are wildly underestimated by Anglo-Saxons in love with the concept of the "creative teacher".

Abiola Lapite

"and almost as good educational outcomes. "

Not according to TIMSS or any other international comparisons I can find. I think you're confusing the French academic elite which goes on to the grand ecoles with the median student here.

KXB

Not having much time to write a more extensive comment to your post, I just want to say "Leave the cheerleaders alone". Sometimes they are the only thing worth watching when you are watching an underperforming football team.

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