In my 2009 book We Are Doomed, now on school, university, and civil service reading lists world-wide, I extruded the following observation:
Education is a vast sea of lies, waste, corruption, crackpot theorizing, and careerist log-rolling. If, as H.G. Wells asserted, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,” we have lost the race, and had better brace ourselves for the catastrophe.
Nothing has improved in four years, as witness this New York Times review of Amanda Ripley’s book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. Indeed, as witness the book itself, if the review is honest. The reviewer is Annie Murphy Paul, not known to me.
Ripley goes to Finland. Ms. Paul (“Murphy Paul,” whatever):
This is the first hint of how Finland does it: rather than “trying to reverse engineer a high-performance teaching culture through dazzlingly complex performance evaluations and value-added data analysis,” as we do, they ensure high-quality teaching from the beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher-training programs, which are themselves far more demanding than such programs in America. A virtuous cycle is thus initiated: better-prepared, better-trained teachers can be given more autonomy, leading to more satisfied teachers who are also more likely to stay on.
Then, uh-oh, South Korea. Our reviewer:
Ripley is cleareyed about the serious drawbacks of [South Korea’s] system: “In Korea, the hamster wheel created as many problems as it solved.” Still, if she had to choose between “the hamster wheel and the moon bounce that characterized many schools in the United States,” she would reluctantly pick the hamster wheel: “It was relentless and excessive, yes, but it also felt more honest.”
Yeah: education-wise, we don’t really do honesty. That’s the first thing you notice when you wade into the ed-biz literature. That’s why I put “lies” first on my list (see above).
Then Poland, whom God preserve from European integration:
In the city of Wroc?aw, Ripley meets up with Tom, a bookish teenager from Pennsylvania, and discovers yet another difference between the schools in top-performing countries and those in the United States. In Tom’s hometown high school, Ripley observes, sports were “the core culture.” Four local reporters show up to each football game. In Wroc?aw, “sports simply did not figure into the school day; why would they?
Got it? Raise teacher prestige; make kids cram; dump the sports. Then our schools will be as orderly and successful as those of Wroc?aw, Busan, and Pietarsaari.
She hasn’t left anything out, has she? Mmm . . . no, can’t think of anything. Nope, not a thing.