Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Modern Times

When I read stories like this one, I wonder how people in South Korea put up with the educational pressure-cooker that is their system. I value education, and I teach my daughter that how she does in school is very important. But honestly, I wouldn't want her to endure what the kids in South Korea are going through, and I think she needs time to have fun.

In fact, I think we all do. The model of working one's self to death may appeal to some, but not to me. Kids who go through such systems, which the KIPP schools seem to adore, have every reason to think their work careers may replicate their school careers. And increasingly, in the United States of America, they're right. I fail to see how working more hours and taking fewer vacations than anyone else in the industrialized world is something to boast about, but nonetheless, we're number one.

Our much maligned educational system lags behind that of South Korea in many respects, but, in all the wrong ways, we're catching up.

This summer I taught a group of smart, motivated young people from all over the world, and about half of my class happened to come from South Korea. My class focused on oral communications, and I used a lot of quirky topics to get them talking. They participated eagerly and gave me a really nice card yesterday, the last day of class. It appears they loved this class just as much as I did.

On the other hand, in my high school classes, I drilled my poor kids to death teaching them how to pass the NY State English Regents exam, which is not designed for them, is utterly inappropriate, and no fun at all. While most of them passed, I honestly don't believe they learned anything except how to pass one test, a skill that will be utterly useless to them in every other endeavor they undertake for the rest of their lives.

And this class, I suppose, is the sort of thing a lot of my Asian students are accustomed to. Still, my college students not only had a better class and experience, but learned more, and are better prepared to take regular college classes in the US. They're learning how to be confident and articulate, while my poor high school kids only learned how to pass a single test (albeit one they need in order to graduate).

I didn't receive any thank you cards from my high school kids, although I have to suppose many of them credited not me, but rather a divine miracle that caused them to pass (I don't mean to imply they're mistaken). I don't blame them for not loving the class. They weren't supposed to, and I guess I didn't love it either. We were all just there doing what we had to do.

It's a shame we're taking the worst features of foreign education systems and giving them to our students and children. I could give the same classes I gave my college students to high school kids, and in the long term, we'd all be better off.
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