Is USA education "bad"?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by gorbatzjov, Jan 31, 2006.

  1. gorbatzjov Member

    Belgium, Dutch/French/English
    To my opinion and experience, (public) high school in the USA is really bad. I lived for a while in Oregon with a hostfamily and their daughter couldn't go to school on Friday's because the State didn't have enough money!!! And that's the USA we're talking about, not Ruanda or Ghana.

    The Universities are among the best of the world - according to different rankings. Some thoughts:
    - Especially private univerisities are quoted as very good. But how many people can pay the thousands of dollars tuition fee? Doesn't this ultra-liberalisation of education make it bad, or at least less good. It sure brings down the average educational level of the country...
    - Rankings are mainly done by American newspapers, politicians, ... or at least rankings are made by American standards, not European or Asian standards.

    Any more thoughts/ideas?
  2. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    Having classes on Friday cancelled at that school sounds really odd. I've never heard of something like that before.
    Public education isn't the greatest, but it depends on the area. Some are better, some are worse. It strives for a general level of education for everyone.

    There's an enormous range of universities. Some are better than others. Typically, you can take out loans from the government to pay for your education, then pay it back after you graduate.

    Math isn't pushed as much in most American schools, calculus/trigonometry are often not required until college. The actual grammatical teaching of English is sadly lacking as well.

    All in all, though, it's not that bad. Suggestions for improvement will certainly be considered. ;)
  3. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  4. TStadt

    TStadt Member

    Having been raised here and attended American public schools, sadly, I am of the opnion that our school system best prepares us in the fight to be (or remain) an economic super-power rather than to be intellectually competitve or equal with the rest of the modern world. I cannot tell you how many times I have met students and young adults from England, France, Japan, Russia (and many other countries) who are academically leaps and bounds ahead of their American counterparts.
  5. BasedowLives

    BasedowLives Senior Member

    That's very strange....I've never heard of that happening. The state didn't have enough money to pay the teachers for 5 days a week, so they went 4?

    I don't know if you know this, but almost all public universities cost thousands of dollars to attend...the one i'm currently attending will probably end up costing more than $20,000 overall by the time i'm done.
  6. langalejandro Senior Member

    Argentino, vivo en España.
    I don't belive it.
  7. tvdxer Senior Member

    Minnesota, U.S.A.
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    I think the fact that American universities attract huge numbers of students from all over the world, and would do so even more if visa requirements were not as strict, is enough of a sign of foreign approval.

    As for tuition fees, a huge percentage of the American middle class can afford even private universities because of scholarships and federal aid. Unless they receive a "full ride" (complete) scholarship, most students take out student loans.

    Most American high school students attend school on Fridays. I find that rather strange that you mentioned that. I do agree that public schools need improvement, however.
  8. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    English, Hodgepodge
    I was hesitant to respond, as I dislike generally dismissive words like "bad" (and especially "evil") used thus in discussions. I find the more I know something, calling it "bad" or "good" becomes fallacious. What is "bad?" Illiteracy? Lack of world view? Poor sense of ethics? Frequent presence of a(n American) football team? Too general? Too specialised?

    I once tutored math and English literature to a high school freshman (year 10) who attended an inner-city school. Seventeen myself, I was astounded to find she could barely read. I had heard such things, but to see it was another thing. So how does one attempt to explain "biting one's thumb" from the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet to a barely literate person? She did not even see the relevance of the play, nor did she have any notion of context.

    So yes, American education even at the high school level can neglect. I've found this happens in many countries, though the degree may very. I've met a French person who didn't know who Henri IV was. On the other side of the spectrum, I've met Italian doctors who know the Satyricon. Though I think children in America walk away from high school knowing less of what they should know than they tend to in Italy, for example.

    You cited a child who couldn't go to school on Fridays in Oregon because the state didn't have enough money. I've never heard of that happening in the U.S., but I'll take your word. Recently I had a similar experience in France. The last three sessions of my English literature class were cancelled because the French government did not alot enough funds to this particular state university. The university in turn could not pay the English literature professors for the last three weeks of classes, so they were just plain cancelled. Is French education bad? Well yes, and no, and then maybe, and maybe not, and then not at all and sort of at the same time.

    My education in the United States was leagues better than that which I obtained at any school I attended elsewhere. Though every year of it has cost money. In fact, I returned to the United States from Asia to go to a particular American high school.

    I'd like to add that public universities in the United States also tend to be very good, though a student might have to be more motivated and independent, depending.

    Perhaps you could specify exactly what you were asking?

  9. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English

    ... compared to other countries? I don't know. Very difficult to quantify.

    ...compared to where we should be? Yes. Bad. Very very very bad. Unequivocally.

    Of course, my idea of where we should be is very different from G.W. Bush's idea:
    or TStadt's idea:
    I don't think our educational system comes close to reaching T's lofty goal, and is even further from W's.

    As far as schools closing for lack of funds, I would believe it in extraordinary circumstances. In my desert home, for example, one reason that schools don't offer more summer programs is that they don't have the money to run the air conditioners in the summer. There are other reasons, though.

    However, I suspect that there's more to gorbatzjov's Oregon example than he knows, and that it might be an urban legend (based in partial fact).

    edit: I'm talking about public grade schools here. Universities are another matter. I agree largely with nyc's post below mine.
  10. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    Actually, almost every American citizen can afford a decent college education, with a few important provisions:

    First, if you can not afford a private school, almost every state has at least one excellent publicly subsidized university. Of course, the student will have to work hard to make the marks in order to gain admission to those top public universities!

    Also, most states, if you live there for some 2 or 3 years, afford you the same subsidized education as if you lived there your entire life. So you can move to the state with the school you want to attend, and work hard waiting tables or some other job, and save save save your money so you can afford tuition. You won't be living in luxury, but if you live cheap, and work hard, you will have a good start.

    Basically, in America, there is only one VALID reason that someone with the aptitude to get one truly may have NO access to an excellent education: They just don't want it bad enough. Period. No exceptions. I know more people who worked their way through school in the worst, most unimaginable circumstances, and yet, they somehow did it. They were not genious intellects. They were not skating through easily. But they were driven to obtain the education they wanted or felt they needed.

    Poverty in America is, firstly, a state of mind, and secondly, a state of economics. It is a burden. It is an impediment. But it is by no means, a checkmate.
  11. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Every child in the United States is privy to a “free” (tax-funded) education up through High School. In most states, students are required to attend school up and through the age of sixteen (usually second year of high school – 10th year of school overall).

    Schools are funded partially by the Federal Government through specific programs, but the bulk of school monies are collected via individual state tax revenues. I have never heard of a school closing its doors specifically to accommodate for lack of funding, however, I have heard of programs being shut down (sports and arts, in particular) for the same reasons.

    The basic problems in most US schools are: a) misappropriation of funds for administrative (read: upper management) costs; b) over-crowded classrooms and c) ridiculous federal mandates that force the students along a pre-determined curriculum whether they are ready for it or not. It pushes those who “can” to do well, yet continually “leaves behind” those who do not to fend for themselves. Social issues outside of school which affect education are not on-topic here, but are relevant to the greater argument.

    As for whether our schools are “bad,” I would have to say that they are in need of improvement, as others have mentioned, but overall, most individuals coming out of the high school system get out of their education what they put into it.

    Most high schools offer Advanced Placement (college-level) or other advanced programs for students who are bright enough to succeed there. They also offer college placement and/or vocational advisement to students, which helps students determine what path they may choose to take once they have completed high school.

    What I believe most schools are lacking anymore is a quest to form a “well-rounded” individual when it comes to education. Schools focus too much on the basics of “readin’, writin’, ‘rithmatic,” (by need, not because they want to) that they tend to eschew emphasis on other important subjects such as world culture, political science, history and yes, even foreign language (not to mention the arts.)

    Private schools, which are costly, can bridge that gap and provide students in general with a much more rounded education than the average public high school student. That is not to say that privately-educated students are necessarily more successful than their public-school friends. They just might have more opportunities based upon their experiences.

    Ultimately, however, education – no matter how good or “bad” – starts at home and end’s with the student’s willingness to work towards his/her academic goals, no matter what they be.
  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Isn't that the point, though? Shouldn't all public schools in the state be good?
  13. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    There are various levels of schools. It largely depends on how popular they are, and on how many students they have, as well as how much money is donated to them annually by alumni or other organisations. Typically, the more money it has and the larger it is, the better the school will be.

    Also, as public (pre-university) schools are funded based largely income tax and government subsidies, it depends on the area.

    The United States is not a socialist country. Not everything is designed to be the same. It depends largely upon popularity and funding.
  14. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Inequalities between schools are a fact of life, even in socialist countries. :)
    However, in my opinion, we should strive to give all pupils access to the same education opportunities. If we fail at that, what's the point of having a public school system, anyway? 'Let them eat cake.'
  15. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    Notice the cultural similarity between most of the Americans' posts? The student is the one who is expected to rise to the challenge of educating himself/herself. The state is not expected to provide quality education for all students. The fact that state schools are inferior to private schools is taken for granted.

    I agree with Outsider that state schools should offer high-quality education on a par with that provided by private schools. Most Americans, however, are not willing to pay more property taxes in order to fund that reality -- apparently because they don't agree that it is a reality that is desirable.
  16. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Sadly, I don't have much trouble believing this happened. When I was in high school in Illinois (1971 - 1974), the school district faced a financial crisis that resulted in a 5-hour school day. For 3 years, I was able to take only 4 "real" classes, plus either gym or music. Being college-bound, I took 4 years of English, math, science, and a foreign language, which meant that in order to fulfill the state's requirement for a year of American history, I had to attend summer school (4 hours a day for I can't remember how many weeks). And that was a joke, too. They tried an experimental teaching approach that organized the material around themes -- it assumed the students already knew the basic timelines of Amer. history, which of course, they didn't.

    Sorry for the rant, but as you can see, I'm still rather bitter about this experience. :mad:

  17. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    I'm sorry to hear about your bad experience, Elisabetta. As a former history teacher, I'm especially dismayed.

    However, don't conclude that a thematic approach to history is bad based on this one experience, just because it was not executed correctly. It should have integrated a timeline into every theme, along with an overview. What a shame.

    The thematic approach is actually better than the traditional timeline approach because it makes history more relevant and gets away from studying the arcane and the trivial, simply because it comes next in the textbook.

    If American schools were to get away from the "three R's" approach and standardized testing, and if teachers were allowed to get creative with the activities and assessments they used, we would see an improvement in the quality of American schools... IMO.
  18. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    equal opporunities doesn't imply that all schools should offer the same level of education. not everyone is the same and not everyone will benefit from it. all that tends to happen is that rather lifting kids up it just drags the best right back down.
  19. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Thanks, fenixpollo. 33 years after the fact, my memory of the course is more than a little dim. But I believe it was indeed poorly executed, as we shuffled around between teachers for whom it was a first-time experiment as well. The compressed schedule didn't help either, I'm sure.

    The irony is that I'm now fascinated by history, and would love the luxury of being able to retake the course (as well as to study European history) with adept teachers and equally interested students. :)

  20. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I thought I might be misunderstood... :D

    Students should start off on equal footing, regardless of how well they happened to 'choose' their parents, financial status, neighbourhood, race, etc. *
    But if, having started under the same conditions, some students end up progressing more than others, I am not opposed to ranking and sorting them according to their achievements in school, at some later time.

    Or, in other words, I believe we should strive to make public schools as equally accessible to every student as possible, but of course equal access does not imply equal performance.

    * Students with disabilities may be a special case.
  21. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    For all students to come from the same demographic is effectively impossible. It would be nice, though.
  22. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I think you are missing the point. We can't change the demographic from which students come, but we can choose to allow students from all demographics into every public school, or to let some demographics keep getting better public schools than others.
  23. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    They are allowed into any public school..

    This does not include universities or post-secondary education.

    It's called "school of choice" in the US.

    If they flunk out of the school, or have discipline problems, they are sometimes sent to a different school for troubled youth.

    As to certain areas getting better schools...if you're defining "better" as more experienced teachers, or smaller class sizes, or more funding...the inner city and problem schools often pay the teachers better than a school in a suburb. The government also offers them more subsidies.

    "to keep getting better public schools" doesn't make sense as an argument to me, concerning the United States. It doesn't exist like that.

    The areas with better schools...are usually wealthy, suburban areas. Rural schools often have less funding, while inner city schools often are overcrowded and have discipline problems.

    In the US...wealthy people and wealthy area = wealthy school, due to the amount of taxes payed to the school by the people in the area. This is a matter voted on in the local elections.

    People in one certain area do not pay for the schools in another certain area. Not directly. It's based on property taxes for the area. Governmental support is a different matter, of which I know very few specifics.

    It can be argued that "it's not fair" that some schools are better than others. Perhaps so. As I said, the US is not a socialist country.
  24. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    So then you contradict yourself when you go on to say that some schools are better.

    Are you saying that any talk of equal schools for all children is socialism? Do you equate socialism with (gasp!) communism?
  25. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    This is happening through the "magnet" school programs (part of public shools) in the US. "Magnet" schools - middle and/or high-school which usually "specialize" in a particular subject area (arts, math, science, etc.) are usually built in lower-income areas as a means of attracting students from all walks of life to these schools.

    Students need not be interested or have a particular talent in the school's subject area to attend. The idea is to offer a better "mix" of students within the school which is beneficial to everyone.

    The education level is also better to a degree. One magnet school in my area rivals even the local private schools and is the only public high school in the state to offer an "International Baccelaurate" as part of their program.
  26. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Let me just say one more thing. Even though in my country we currently do have a socialist party in government, we have exactly the same kind of school inequalities here that Chad and other posters have talked about. I don't think it has much to do with being a little more left of center, or a little more right of center. These problems are universal, as far as I can see (perhaps in Scandinavia they don't exist...)

    Please note also that I have nothing against private schools of excellence, for those who can afford them (and this may even include students with few economic resources, who get into such schools through scholarships). But public schools, being funded by the public, should strive to treat students democratically, IMHO.
  27. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    That's not quite correct. Some state universities are considered better than many private ones: Michigan (Ann Arbor), U.C. Berkeley, U. Va, and some campuses of the N.Y. State U. system, for example. There are a multitude of mediocre private colleges and universities as well.

    The state is expected to provide an opportunity for university level education, and some states have tiered systems with differing levels of quality for students with distinct achievement levels in high school.

    Still, it's quite possible for a Michigan State U. student to get an education as good as or better than that received by a U. of Michigan student, despite the greater admissions selectivity of the the latter. Individual effort does come into play.

    I've also had personal experiences as both teacher and student at some of the supposed 'elite' institutions, and have seen students fail to get much of an education, through lack of effort.

    No political system or ideology can stimulate all students to work. That said, the provision of public education, at both the high school and university levels, is in essence socialistic. Don't tell Dubya. He would send troops to shut down all those state university campuses in states that voted for 'the enemy'.
  28. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    I was replying to Outsider's comments and explaining why equal schools do not currently exist.

    How to effectively have equal schools for all children is enormously complex. The pat answer is to provide more funding and teacher training for them all. This raises taxes and is usually on the governmental agenda somewhere. There is still a difference in schools. For all schools to be balanced would require removing the inclusion of property taxes and donations to local schools and replacing it with a vast governmentally control "school fund", which would then dole out a specific amount of funding per student, regardless of area.

    There is, actually, a specific amount of funding given to a school per student, in Michigan it is something between one and two thousand dollars a year. This is government funding on the state level though, and does not include the property taxes, nor donations by private citizens, which are higher in wealthy areas. For instance, the surburbian high school I attended wanted a new auditorium. How did it fund it? Private donations from locals. Would this work in an inner city where excess funds might be slim?

    Beyond that, my grasp of economics in relation to schools falls completely apart.

    As I said, in reality, better schools are dependent upon area. Would I like everyone to have the same schools, all very good and perfect? Certainly. But it does not realistically exist as such.

    Socialism is basically governmental control. The more of it, the more socialist a country becomes and the higher the expectation for the government to take care of everything without private support. In extremes, this becomes communism. In effect, it destroys the sense of "making it by yourself," a philosophy which thoroughly motivates the private citizen in the US.
  29. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Governmental control is another thing you can't realistically get rid of, either...
  30. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    True. There is always the debate over how much is necessary.
  31. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    At age 10, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th. (ABC News).
    The US system has rated lower than that of some industrialized countries and higher than developing ones. Japanese schools tend to be uniform as are some European schools. In The US you can find some of the best schools in the world, often private or public in rich or upper middle class neighborhoods. And some of the worst often public and in poor and lower middle class neighborhoods. Please see the 2020 website. Some schools in the US have metal detectors to check students for weapons (not the case in Columbine) and security and even police patrols. Draw your own conclusions
  32. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    You sounded like you were not only accepting the way things are, but defending them as better because they are non-socialistic. Plus, you contradicted yourself by saying that schools are equal (because of state funding) but that some schools are better than others.
    Socialism is not about control, and is not about the government "taking care of everything." Socialism is the idea that certain services are the responsibility of the government.

    Capitalism has no interest in providing services unless they make a profit; no matter how much people need those services. Capitalism is competitive, not benevolent or cooperative. Government can be. Socialism says that government should provide services that private enterprise cannot, such as health care, roads, public transportation, parks, sewers, garbage collection, and education.

    In defending public education against socialism, you overlook one crucial fact: public education is socialism. The very concept that the government should operate schools and require all children to attend a (any) school is a socialistic idea. A capitalistic approach would be to not have any state schools and let the profit motive and the value of "making it by yourself" determine who should get an education, the quality and quantity of that education. If you think schools are unequal now....
  33. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    By the way, those services don't just benefit individual citizens. They also benefit private corporations. Roads are an obvious example (and road maintenance!), but education is another one. When public schools don't educate students well, corporations need to make up for it by training their employees, at the company's expense.

    We're living in a competitive world, where employers always want the best man for the job. But if you allow a significant portion of the population to be brushed aside from good education, you are going to lose lots of potential best men for the job, and end up with second bests.
  34. gorbatzjov Member

    Belgium, Dutch/French/English
    Yes, that's what happened for some time (several weeks) in either september 2001 or september 2003 (I believe it was 2003). I'm talking about Oregon City, if any one is familiar with that community (the high school was something like "South Oregon City High School")

    See, to me this is very weird. I pay € 500 per YEAR in Belgium. Isn't education THE most important thing in a "good, rich, intellectual" society as well as in a "economically rich" country? If you keep your people stupid, or make it unable for them to still all they want, how are you going to have the geniuses a country sometimes need?

    Getting a "loan" to study sounds very contradictory to me as I probably am not familiar with the huge expenses that are involved in studying. So after you graduate, the first thing you do, is pay of some several thousands of dollars? And if you want to buy a house or a car, get deeper into debts? Doesn't seem to promote studying...
  35. gorbatzjov Member

    Belgium, Dutch/French/English
    You have a good point there fenixpollo.
    Our government has said this about education: "Everyone, whether they are big or small, rich or poor, Belgian or not-Belgian, intelligent or less intelligent, should have the right and the access to a free (up to 18 years) and a payable education after high school; by which Parliament agreed that "payable" means that the minimum wage earners should be able to send their children to college. The State must garantee the quality of education by all means."

    Therefore our universities are very similar. Whether you graduate from the Uni of Brussels or the Uni of Antwerp, it doesn't matter... They are all seen as equal. Private instituations don't exist because this would raise tuition and make an "economic" battle between Universities.
  36. Fernando Senior Member

    Spain, Spanish
    gorbatzjov, while I am proner to the "European system" your comparison is unfair.

    Basedow's education and yours cost most the same. The difference is he pays a big percentage of his education while you are paying a small part. The other part is been payed by taxpayer (students or not).

    In Europe we have a huge amount of bad students, real lazies who should look for their living rather than crawling for years in classrooms.

    PS: Why to make universities for stupids? Stupids should never go to universities.
  37. gorbatzjov Member

    Belgium, Dutch/French/English
    Yes of cours, I agree there are a lot of lazy guys who'd better start working. I was just trying to explain that it is my opinion that because costs may be TOO high for STUDENTS, they may opt not to continue studying. What I have learned at this thread is that appareantly, many Americans (USA'ers) don't bother to start paying off loans after graduating, something I cannot even imagine!
  38. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    Of course we pay them off. It is not required to pay the entire amount immediately. They are like any loan, you pay a bit every month or more if you can and want to.
  39. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    No, in the U.S., education is not the most important thing. It is important, but the society (as a whole) does not value it as thing #1.

    And Fernando is right -- the education in our two countries probably costs the same. Belgians pay less tuition because you pay more taxes. In the U.S., having to pay low taxes is more important to most Americans than having excellent schools for all students.
  40. gorbatzjov Member

    Belgium, Dutch/French/English
    Which brings the question to who's responsible to pay for studies. Should the student pay for its own education or should the society?
  41. Mjolnir

    Mjolnir Senior Member

    Israel, Hebrew, English
    I have a question for people from the USA.

    I watched The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and he did his usual J-Walking, where he asks random people questions. This time, he asked high school students about geography.

    The questions were really easy, and the responses of the students... well, see for yourselves:

    Q: "Where's Iraq?"
    A1: "In Afghanistan"
    A2: "In Southern Europe"

    Q: "How do you call people from Denmark?"
    A: "Jewish people"

    Q: "If a person's from Amsterdam, what's his nationality?"
    A: "Amsterdamian"

    My question is this - did the show exaggerate (extremely), or is this the normal level of high school students in the US?
  42. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
  43. Mjolnir

    Mjolnir Senior Member

    Israel, Hebrew, English
    Yeah, I figured that they probably pick the dumbest people, but the answers just stunned me. The example you gave about locating Iraq is also shocking. Leno said that 11% of high school students in the USA can't locate the USA on a map, their own country!
  44. CrepiIlLupo Member

    USA - English
    Did this show probably take an extremely stupid and non-representative sample for entertainment value? It seems pretty implausable to believe that they wouldn't.

    If the statistics about being able to locate Iraq on a map are true, I find that disgusting.

    I know a lot of Americans have already commented on this thread, but here are my two cents.

    First of all, I can't compare my educational background or system to anybody else's because I don't know (or have only a faint idea) of how the educational systems of other countries work. However, there is a stereotype here of the Indian and Asian students who come to the U.S., which is that they are much harder-working than American students. Even though I really like to avoid stereotypes of any sort, I would have to say that in my experience this has seemed true.

    As far as primary education is concerned, I definitely believe that public schooling is below par for the most part. Our current administration seems to want to handle this by taking kids out of failing public schools. The problem with this is, of course, that the public schools are failing due to lack of governmental support.

    Bad. I'm still struggling to understand what exactly was meant by this word. I personally don't feel that i've had a bad education. Far from it. I had many teachers who were extremely intelligent and cared about what they taught.

    The sad reality is that there is such a HUGE gap between the rich and poor in this country, and the poor in the inner-cities and extremely rural areas are certainly not always able to gain access out of the system in which they are brought up. All people should be able to start out on equal footing? Absolutely. Is this an attainable reality, in any culture? I think not.

    Americans definitely don't seem to hold education in as high a regard as other cultures do ON THE WHOLE. By contrast, I feel that many of my countrymen are more trade oriented and gear themselves toward an "education" in that respect. But, as with every other place on earth (yes, even Scotland!) there are extremely intelligent and extremely stupid people. I have met (and I know that this may seem unbelievable to some of you) American people who were extremely well-educated and knowledgeable and worldly, rivaling the "educational upbringing" of any world citizen.

    I am certain there are many American schools which would be considered lowly by world standards, but there are plenty of American institutions that are continually lauded as among the best on the planet (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, etc.), though I don't know the criteria which are used to make them so.

    In summation of my novella here, I think black and white statements such as this are inaccurate. How do you quantify such a thing? The next time you see an American, match wits with him and see what you get. I'm betting he could either be dumber or smarter than you. I'll do the same experiment with someone from another culture, and I'm sure i'll get the same results. Get that grain of salt ready.
  45. dudasd

    dudasd Senior Member

    In spite of all great minds that evidently exist in America, as well as lot of educated people, it's obvious that there are some serious gaps in American schooling system. One of the many examples I saw: some 20 years ago, a group of reporters from Belgrade made a reportage about America. There was also a cute presentation of American students receiving their university degrees. As those young people had just graduated in geography (I can't remember which of the US universities it was), one of our reporters made a small "inquiry" and asked those teachers-to-be several questions about Yugoslavia (which had 22 million of people then, and wasn't just a "spot" somewhere in Europe). I still remember some of the answers:

    "In Africa, right?"

    "I don't know where it is, but at least I know for sure it consists of three different nations." (Btw, our country had 6 nations those days.)

    "Of course I know, in the south of Europe. Yugoslavian people speak three native languages: French, Italian, and... German?" (Our official native languages were Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian and Macedonian, which are Slavic languages, as the very name of the country implied.)

    At the same time, in grammar schools of our provincial towns, we were already learning about industry and economy of all the possible countries (things like number of sheep in Australia or information about export/import of wheat in USA). I remember I thought: "These Americans are really a lucky nation, they don't have to learn as much as we do."
  46. shoobydoowap Senior Member

    USA, English
    CrepiIlLupo took the words right out of my mouth.

    The teaching of Geography in American schools is definitely a weak point. (Of course, I think 99.99% of American students could locate the United States on a map. Come on.) But I don't think that means that we can classify a whole educational system as "bad."

    And what's worse is that most judgments made on educational systems are made from standardized testing... and a discussion on how standardized testing is garbage would take a whole new thread.
  47. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    The problem is that with anecdotes like this, one can prove everything and nothing at the same time. I could easily produce a bunch of equally funny true stories where educated people from ex-Yugoslavia and other European countries showed laughable ignorance as soon as the topic touched something outside their field of expertise, and often even within it (see this old post of mine for one such example). As for my teachers of subjects such as history and geography, they didn't make such outright embarrassing displays of ignorance as in your anecdote, but many of them did confidently teach us all sorts of widely believed, but entirely false factoids, popular myths, and shallow prejudices, which sometimes got to the point where it would have been really better to leave us altogether ignorant. As for all the nonsense about export-import figures and the like that we were forced to endure, I have yet to meet anyone who ever remembered any of it beyond the exam day (if even that long).

    Furthermore, what looks as a horrible gap in one's knowledge from one point of view, can also look pretty insignificant from a different perspective. Many Europeans -- I'm talking in generalities now -- like to laugh at Americans' ignorance about this or that fact of European geography, while at the same time their own knowledge of American geography is pretty much limited to being able to find the U.S. on the world map and to roughly locate New York and L.A. on the U.S. map. Similarly, many of them laugh at Americans' ignorance of European history and politics, whereas at the same time, they have a cartoonishly ignorant picture of American history and politics, except perhaps for those parts that happen to touch closely on the affairs of their home countries. Thus, one should always take into account the relativity of the cultural perspective.

    And finally, too many people exaggerate the importance of erudition in judging the quality of an educational system. Erudition is a nice thing, and I certainly appreciate it, but there are more important things to be mastered first. In Croatia, I find it shocking how people can be laughing at the supposedly inferior American education, considering how many functionally semi-literate people are coming out of Croatian schools and even universities. Faced with two random A-students from Croatia and the U.S., I would definitely have much more confidence in the latter's ability to produce a sensible, readable, and well-researched ten-page essay on a given topic.
  48. dudasd

    dudasd Senior Member

    This was not an anecdote, nor something our teachers told us, I saw that reportage on TV myself. (I don't remember that any of our teachers used false factoids or popurar myths to stimulate us, probably some did it in other schools.) Of course I forgot how many sheep there were in Australia in 1986, and this is not laughing at American "ignorance", there are so many things where Americans are superior. But gaps do exist in American system of education, that's something my American friends often complain about, and I also see that in last 10 years or so our system has been pretty "Americanized" as well, compared to older generations like mine (so I wouldn't bet that our young people posess more erudition at the moment).
  49. michimz

    michimz Senior Member

    US English
    This conversation has turned in to 'who is smarter.' The topic is quality of schools in the US. On this topic, I would like to share some of my experiences. I am a social worker and spend my days focusing on the problems the low-income people face.

    One client's High School 'education' consisted of him showing up to school for a couple of hours and then going to work for McDonald's as part of his 'work program.' He claims that he did that throughout high school. So after working in McDonald's for years, he can now put on his job applications that he as a High School Diploma.

    Another client of mine cannot spell to save his life. One of my favorite misspells is coda instead of soda. He also claims a high school diploma. He was in 'Special Education' when he was in school.

    These two cases are from Texas. My last story to share is from the state of Washington. My sister is in a program for children who learn more quickly than most kids. Where do these kids attend school? In the school in the bad part of town, of course. When you have a school with low test scores, why would you want to take the time, money and effort to give them the support they need when you could just put the kids with the highest scores at the same school to average out the numbers?!

    My opinion is that US schools have MANY MANY problems that one can not see unless he/she is in the middle of it.

  50. Kajjo

    Kajjo Senior Member

    I have no personal experience with American schools, but with several American students who came to Germany and England. My impression was as follows:

    (1) History and geography very much focuses on American history and geography. The knowledge about foreign countries and continents as well as about European history was shallow at best.

    (2) Learning foreign languages on a high level appears to be relatively rare. Most Americans I met in England did not claim to know any other language than English to a degree that would enable them to correspond easily. Those students I met in Germany were very proud of having mastered German (I agree, by the way, that German is a quite difficult language) and claimed that only few Americans learn foreign languages up to fluency.

    (3) Only very few Americans had a very wide common knowledge, although I met several scientists with incredible common knowledge.

    If those three issues were correct, I would deduce that the American school system is not very good. However, I do not know how much of this is prejudice or limited experience on my side and how much is actually true.


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