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Oh what fun we had, but at the time if seemed so bad
September 15, 2012 2:53 AM   Subscribe

Quiet at the back: classrooms around the world – in pictures From the Russian pupils in Prada to the Nigerian children who sit four to a desk, photographer Julian Germain takes us on a journey around the world's classrooms
posted by fearfulsymmetry (47 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very nicely shot.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:07 AM on September 15, 2012


Oooh, neat, thanks!

There are a surprising number of actual chalkboards in those photos. Some make a lot of sense but I wasn't expecting them to be so dominant.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:15 AM on September 15, 2012


The chalkboards don't surprise me. What surprises me is the places that go begging for money to continue, say, art classes but blithely hand out $$$ for whiteboards to replace perfectly serviceable blackboards. (Also, as my middle-school son pointed out yesterday, Windows licenses and Mac laptops.) Looks like most of the rest of the world isn't quite so dumb.
posted by DU at 4:21 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


This was great. The wonderfully subjective comments are what made it more than just a set of well composed photographs. The details like the Nigerian school wanting him to shoot indoors, and the 'taches and pencil case on the guys in Quatar. I am really curious about 16% of German primary aged children out of school though? It has to be something to do with a later entry into school, yeah? I know up here you might be 7 before you enter the official primary system.
posted by Iteki at 4:23 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great link! The set was very sweet, I smiled a lot in response to the faces, but I did find his fashion commentary somewhat strange.

I instantly recognized the US classroom, but I'm not sure if I recognized the students as American or the windowless institution-beige walls instead.
posted by Vysharra at 4:28 AM on September 15, 2012


What surprises me is the places that go begging for money to continue, say, art classes but blithely hand out $$$ for whiteboards to replace perfectly serviceable blackboards.

I don't particularly want to make this interesting post about schools from a variety of cultures a referendum on educational budgeting in the US but I wouldn't always call blackboards "perfectly serviceable". It's a lot harder to read what's written on a blackboard, especially if you have poor eyesight or are sitting in the back of the room, it takes longer to write on them and longer to clean them (and this time is important both in terms of learning time wasted and in terms of holding students' attention during transitions), the chalk is a pain in the ass (more minor complaint), and it's harder to write largely and neatly enough that students can understand. Also, yeah, whiteboards aren't cheap but purchasing and installing whiteboards is not the reason we have to cut back on art classes.

There are tons of problems with how we spend our money in education, I TOTALLY agree with that, but it's also a mistake to assume that updating technology (and I would consider whiteboards versus blackboards an update in technology) is always a waste of money.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:38 AM on September 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm having a hard time believing that these Russian kids - all of them! - would voluntarily wear dress suits to school. It just isn't something that a teenager would do. I'm willing to bet that they were told to dress up their finest for the photo shoot (and even given them specific instructions about what they should be wearing), either by their teacher or by the headmaster.
posted by daniel_charms at 4:49 AM on September 15, 2012


I'm having a hard time believing that these Russian kids - all of them! - would voluntarily wear dress suits to school.

Could also be a dress code; there are definitely schools where the older students, those moving on to college/university soon, are expected to wear business attire in place of the uniforms worn by the younger grades.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:52 AM on September 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Interesting comments on the St. Louis public schools. My freshman year at Washington University, I intermittently volunteered at one of the public charter schools that is just about 100% black (like, as he notes, most public schools in the area). I had just moved to St. Louis, so I was asking the kids how they liked it. "I don't like it here," one 6th grader told me. "It's too dangerous." And that was how I knew that I was living in a total bubble of a place while attending college.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:46 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


In A LOT of Russian schools there is dress code.

And the person who said (in the comments there) that people in the last picture are children of millionaires is wrong. This is how regular Moscow/SPb middle class hipster kids look.
posted by floatboth at 6:14 AM on September 15, 2012


Those "fertility rate" and "average life expectancy" and "youth literacy" statistics are *so* strongly correlated, it just jumps out at you, even from just 15 data points here. You can't not notice. And then with the photographs, giving you a very physical sense of what those numbers mean...

It makes me wonder whether building schools or hospitals has the quickest effect on raising life expectancy and standards of living (and decreasing fertility.) I'd kind of like to see pictures of hospitals in all of those countries too... Or are the countries with the lowest life expectancy rates more affected by war than by disease?

I kind of want to see some statistics representing women's status on there too (in the countries where they are absent from the classroom photos, I'd like to see their classrooms, if they have any.)

And then I would sit around pondering which way the arrows of cause and effect go...
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:15 AM on September 15, 2012


It makes me wonder whether building schools or hospitals has the quickest effect on raising life expectancy and standards of living (and decreasing fertility.)

I'm far from an expert in education, but my first hand experience has been that it is far harder to staff schools and clinics than it is to build them. (This is mentioned in one or two of the captions, including the Peru one.) Staffing and supplying an education or health system is a really massive endeavor, much harder than dropping in new buildings.
posted by Forktine at 6:47 AM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Those are regular city kids in uniforms. The facts that the uniforms looks like business wear is a cultural thing.
posted by griphus at 7:08 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed this post. I particularly liked the tidbit about the older kids in Ethiopia being taught thermodynamics.

I spent about a month in Bamako, Mali 3 years ago. The house I was staying in was immediately next to a small elementary school. It was an open air classroom with a roof and the classroom and little play yard was immediately below my bedroom window. School started very early while I was still in bed. And on many mornings I would listen to the drills (in French). The little kids were so adorable in their uniforms. But when a child got an answer wrong they were beaten with a stick. I could hear the slap of the stick and the little cries of the child. It broke my heart. And I was not allowed to take a picture of the classroom.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:34 AM on September 15, 2012


I found myself wanting to teach in Ethiopia or Peru, though I have no teaching qualifications or a second language. I have knowledge, and they want to know. I could share. Hubris.
posted by b33j at 7:37 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have traveled extensively to a number of these countries, and had first-hand exposure to the educational system.

America has its work seriously cut out for it. The noticeable absence in the link is China . If the average American saw a glimpse into the Chinese classroom, his heart would skip a beat - and not in a good way. Chinese elementary school would destroy that Missouri school of black kids.

The Russians pose no threat, as they are attempting mostly to get into American schools, as immigrants. We will retain their talent because they desire not to go back to Russia.

The Arabs are very weak in education, they want higher education in America, but will return back to the middle east to work. Very few can overcome their dislike of America to stay here post-education.

Africa needs the world's blessing and a generous curve for it to even have a shot at competing in the world's education competition.

Germany and Europe at large offer attractive, culturally compatible roads into the America - many Europeans take their euro education and do very well in the USA while also getting the benefits of an American way of life.

It all comes back to China - They don't want to live in the USA. They want to dominate the University output and will go to incredible lengths to achieve this. It starts with the classroom: Unlike the Russians and the Germans with their chic suits and Prada styles, the Chinese wear coats inside the classroom because It is too cold and many have no heat. Yet, they score unbelievable scores in math, #1 ranking in the world.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:39 AM on September 15, 2012


Yet, they score unbelievable scores in math, #1 ranking in the world.

Those exams essentially have zero predictive power. The US has been near the bottom of those rankings since they began in the early 60's. So basically the entire post WWII cohort.

France - who has a great track record for producing lots of good Math folks is also middle of the pack on all of these rankings, yet they are massively overrepresented as a % of Math grad students. I mean the quant finance world is just crammed with Frenchies.
posted by JPD at 7:48 AM on September 15, 2012


About chalk versus whiteboards: Whatever the benefits for kids with eyesight problems, whiteboards are terrible. They're expensive, costing about $1.25 each for a marker that will last for less than a week of heavy use. They degrade over time, meaning that a whiteboard that's a couple of years old will acquire a weird mess of old, half-erased lines and words that mean that the legibility benefits are lost (or, in some cases, that you can't use a particular color, like Red, because it blends into the badly erased mess).

Now, in a technical class, or a business setting, they have their place; you wouldn't want chalkboards in an environment with a lot of computers due to the dust. For just about everything else, though, give me the less expensive, more durable chalk.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:51 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or to be more direct about it "US schools are failing" is a pile of horseshit. Greater income inequality is to blame for divergent outcomes within the population, but any claims for the need to reinvent education should immediately be examined for ulterior motives.

This is not a screed against statistical analysis of teachers or anything like that (I'm beginning to think that a large part of population who the teachers are isn't actually very important. Its only important for the disadvantaged/underserved)
posted by JPD at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2012


And yes, some western nations (the US in particular) fall in rankings due to their less-enthusiastic elimination of students from the cohort. There are large educational gaps in the US that we don't eliminate from our measurements; in Asian countries, these students are shunted off the mainstream as soon as possible.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:54 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


would you agree as well that the sort of exams used for benchmarking tend to favor systems that focus on rote learning?
posted by JPD at 7:58 AM on September 15, 2012


floatboth: This is how regular Moscow/SPb middle class hipster kids look.

griphus: Those are regular city kids in uniforms. The facts that the uniforms looks like business wear is a cultural thing.

Meh. I guess my knowledge in these matters must be rather outdated, then. Since when has this been a thing, and is it something you'd only see in SPb and Moscow or would kids in, say, Voronezh, sport a similar look?
posted by daniel_charms at 8:03 AM on September 15, 2012


I would agree with that, but I also think that rote learning has more of a place in education than the US educational system has been willing to admit. It's anecdata, but for myself, I only really internalized mathematical concepts once my middle school put me in a small group (with poor, average, and good students) that used the Saxon math drill books in addition to the "New math" crap that they were teaching in the mainstream at that time, which focused on story problems. The poor and average students pulled up their grades, and the good students solidified our understanding of concepts from that point.

Meanwhile, the "more creative" style of math didn't really produce more creative problem solvers, either; I'm not sure that it had any benefit overall.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:04 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Since when has this been a thing, and is it something you'd only see in SPb and Moscow or would kids in, say, Voronezh, sport a similar look?
Daniel_charms, the uniform requirements have looked like business wear for at least the past two decades, even outside of Moscow; forget Voronezh, I am even talking Zarichne village in Ukraine. It wouldn't be Prada and Gucci, of course, but it would look very much the same.

You might want to take a closer look at what kind of assumptions about Russia were fueling your willingness to "bet that they were told to dress up their finest for the photo shoot (and even given them specific instructions about what they should be wearing), either by their teacher or by the headmaster."
posted by Pwoink at 8:39 AM on September 15, 2012


I live in St. Louis and I went for a very short time to a nice city public magnet school, and also for longer a time to public schools like the one in the photo (not actually in St. Louis city, but in similarly poor, similarly majority black North St. Louis County districts). I also have friends who have taught / continue to teach in schools in the St. Louis City school district, which is currently unaccredited because its test scores are so low.

Say what you will about income inequality being "to blame", JPD (and anyone else). What I know to be true about poor districts in the St. Louis area is that they are generally both drastically underfunded and terribly mismanaged. And I strongly believe that both of those problems could be solved with smart, measured intervention from the state and/or federal government. And I believe that when Americans say that children in struggling American schools in poor neighborhoods score poorly and are educated poorly more because of their family situations, community culture and economic circumstances than because of what the schools have or do not have to offer, I beg to differ.

Let me tell you about the worst year of my impoverished public school experience. In my 5th grade classroom, circa 1990, there were 40 students in a room that had been designed to hold 25. In order to get to the desks farthest from the door kids had to literally climb over the other rows of desks because there was no space to walk in between. The windows had cracks in them and lots of kids wore their coats in the wintertime. There was no working air conditioning so sometimes classes were just canceled in on hot days (in Missouri, even back then, it could be 100 degrees in August or 95 degrees in May). The lunchroom, which was also a boiler room, was infested with roaches. Lunch was usually junk, and too little of it -- a corn dog and a fruit cup; a single slice of greasy pizza with cardboard-thin crust. There was no library. The textbooks for students were 10 or 20 years old, missing pages, taped together. The playground was a pile of rusting metal over cracked concrete. For lack of other things to do at recess the kids threw rocks at one another, or sometimes the bricks that had fallen from the school's facade. The playground was always understaffed at recess time -- on a good day two teachers would be supervising 100 kids; sometimes it was one. Kids were constantly fighting, and getting sent home with injuries. Once or twice the teachers confiscated knives.

My teacher, Mrs. G-, could not remember how to pronounce my name and therefore gave me another name that she insisted the other students call me, too. When kids talked too much in class she would climb atop her desk and scream a high-pitched, bloodcurdling scream, before launching into her favorite monologue about how we were all lazy mouthy idiots who would never do anything with our lives. Once she pulled me aside at recess to confess to ten-year-old me that she hated her job but was hanging on to it because was thinking of divorcing her husband. She liked me, despite my stupid name, you see, because on the first day of school I had meticulously taped back together all the torn pages in my textbooks, and patiently washed scrubbed all the scrawled FUCKs off of my desk.

The other teachers, and the school staff, could hear her screaming at us through the school's thin walls. They never said anything to Mrs. G-. No one ever even looked though the door to see what was wrong. Maybe they all thought she was right about us -- that the all the people with the power to make a difference who had through their actions or inactions let this neighborhood school sink further and further into ruin were right about us -- that we were the problem; failures in the making; stamped rejects at birth; not worth anyone's time.

You tell me how a student, from ANY neighborhood, from ANY family, is supposed to learn in an environment like that. Tell me how working-class parents with long inflexible hours can make a difference in a school system like that.

I got out of that system the very next year because I won a scholarship to a private school. And I've spent the rest of my life feeling survivor's guilt, and wondering about the friends I left behind.

I can tell you those kids crowded into broken desks beside me at the poor public school weren't stupid. They didn't deserve their poverty. And they weren't doomed by it, either. If their destinies were so preordained by their difficult home lives that a good school could do little or nothing to change them then mine should have been, too. But it wasn't. I was born to a 17-year-old mother and I grew up on food stamps in rented hovels in some of the country's most dangerous neighborhoods and I graduated from a top-20 university and I have hauled my ass all the way to the middle class. And I have no doubt -- no doubt -- that the excellent middle and high school education I lucked into is in large part what saved me.

People who say our public school system isn't fundamentally broken haven't lived in the broken parts of it.
posted by BlueJae at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2012 [28 favorites]


Hmm. I guess I assumed that even if they did have uniform requirements, Russian kids would be just as reluctant to wear suits as Estonian kids - ie. they'd wear Adidas or black denims instead of dress pants and t-shirts under their suit jackets if they could get away with it. And I also assumed that Russian teachers would be much like Estonian teachers (at least the ones I once knew).
posted by daniel_charms at 9:09 AM on September 15, 2012


Saying "US Schools are not failing" and "underfunded inner city schools in the US are failing" are not mutually exclusive concepts. What you are talking about is the result of income inequality and the lack of income redistribution from rich neighborhoods to poor neighborhoods (which is part of why income inequality is increasing). Also as I said, I think teacher quality is far more important in places where the environment outside the classroom is less conducive to learning. Upper middle class suburbia? I honestly think you could put below average teachers there and still end up with similar outcomes. The same is not true of underprivileged areas.
posted by JPD at 9:21 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I believe that when Americans say that children in struggling American schools in poor neighborhoods score poorly and are educated poorly more because of their family situations, community culture and economic circumstances than because of what the schools have or do not have to offer, I beg to differ.

Taking "community culture" out of the equation. You are wrong. The data pretty clearly speaks to economic factors and parental education level, and family situation (both of which end up usually just being reformulations of economic factors) as being the main drivers of educational accomplishment. You just can't avoid that. We do a really really really shitty job of leveling the field.
posted by JPD at 9:26 AM on September 15, 2012


I beg to differ vs You are wrong:

I wouldn't want to continue that conversation, either.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:40 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really diverse set of pictures. Though when the photographer says "I love the way some of them are comfortable in their skin – the lads who look sporty and the girls who are putting on a pretty smile.", my inner teen wants to tell him to go fuck right off.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:47 AM on September 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I beg to differ vs You are wrong:

I wouldn't want to continue that conversation, either.


Take your pick - anecdote or data.
posted by JPD at 10:27 AM on September 15, 2012


JPD, I think you misunderstand me. Perhaps I need to clarify. What I am SAYING is that we do a really shitty job of leveling the field, and good schools are a key component of leveling the field. We are failing to provide students who live in poverty with an education that empowers them to escape poverty.

All things being equal in a school setting, I agree with you that children from an economically disadvantaged family are on average going to fare less well than children from a stable economic background, for all the logical reasons (lack of support at home, stress, distractions, untreated health problems, hunger -- all of which I continued to live while attending my fancy private school, competing with kids who didn't have those problems at home, by the way, so I know just how much they can impact performance).

But all things are not equal. We are, in general, offering children with bad home situations a terrible education.

So when I say "And I believe that when Americans say that children in struggling American schools in poor neighborhoods score poorly and are educated poorly more because of their family situations, community culture and economic circumstances than because of what the schools have or do not have to offer, I beg to differ," what I mean is: the fact that these children are not succeeding in school is not some inevitable outcome of their economic situation. There are things we could be doing to help them succeed educationally, within the school system, despite their circumstances -- things we could make schools offer children in poor neighborhoods to help those children succeed -- and we are choosing, as a nation, for the most part, not to. It is OUR FAULT.

To say otherwise is a cop-out. It's a story we tell ourselves so we can better sleep at night. This is not a simply a question of sending kids to school with a mediocre teacher or a good teacher. Schools in low-income neighborhoods across the country are literally unsafe and literally crumbling. We are sending a not insignificant number of American kids to places that resemble underfunded prison camps more than schools, and we are all to blame for it.

Tell me: Have you ever set foot in a public school in a low-income neighborhood? I am genuinely interested to know.
posted by BlueJae at 10:43 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have you ever set foot in a public school in a low-income neighborhood? I am genuinely interested to know.

I can't speak for JPD but I attended a low performing high school in what is now one of the lowest performing urban school districts in America and I have to say that a lot of the problem lies with the students themselves. There's just no getting around that. Now there are obviously outside factors at work there but these are things the district is fairly powerless to address no matter how much money you give them. Chaotic and/or abusive home lives, parents with substance abuse problems, parents who just don't give a fuck, students who just don't give a fuck, gang activity, drug use etc... Obviously there were some poor teachers and the school could have provided a more secure environment (I think they eventually assigned MPD officers to the school since they were always there anyway) but there's only so much they can do even with money. Milwaukee ranks 4th in per pupil spending among the 50 largest urban districts yet ranks next to last (beating only Detroit).

Me and ten of my friends started that same high school at the same time and of the eleven only three graduated. Several didn't make it past the 9th grade, I know these people, I doubt putting them in a different school would have helped as they didn't bother to show up most of the time anyway. A few of them tried alternative schools or programs for at risk kids, none of them finished. I know it's all anecdotal but that's my take on the subject.
posted by MikeMc at 11:14 AM on September 15, 2012


"What surprises me is the places that go begging for money to continue, say, art classes but blithely hand out $$$ for whiteboards to replace perfectly serviceable blackboards. (Also, as my middle-school son pointed out yesterday, Windows licenses and Mac laptops.)"

This is one of my pet causes to educate the citizenry about. There's a reason for this. (I'm going to tell you how we do it in Illinois, but most states are pretty similar.) We levy into six (or sometimes seven) different "funds." Each one has its own tax rate and its own rules. Money from one cannot be moved into another; it is against the law. Teachers and "consumables" -- art supplies, textbooks, school supplies -- come from the Education Fund (or the "ed fund" in jargony parlance). Whiteboards, chalkboards, etc., come from Operations & Maintenance (O&M -- a regular levy for capital expenditures like buildings and permanent fixtures, maintenance of capital expenditures, and the salaries of those who build or maintain that sort of thing) or from Capital Projects (an irregular levy where you levy for a specific purpose, like building a new building). Money that comes from grants, the state, the feds, etc., is dedicated to one particular fund (or one purpose within that fund) and can't be used for anything else.

So, a couple years ago we got a $34.5 million grant from the state for capital expenditures; the same year, we got $1.3 million in a grant from the state for teachers (reading interventionists, basically). People were complaining bitterly that we had laid off 10% of our teachers while we had $34.5 million to spend on new buildings, new whiteboards, etc., but those funds were restricted to those capital expenditures. I mean, we could literally spend it on white boards bolted to the wall (capital expenditure), but not white boards on rolling frames (consumable). If we could bolt the teachers to the floor, we could probably spend it on teachers, but I feel like that might make the teachers cranky and the union would probably bring a grievance about it.

There are some good reasons for the state handing out large capital expenditure grants -- it can be difficult to issue bonds for new school construction in communities with large immigrant populations (established native citizens, who can vote, sometimes will repeatedly vote down necessary school taxes/bonds because it's "those kids," not "our community"), it can be difficult to issue adequate bonds in high-poverty communities, it can be difficult to issue adequate bonds in very small communities. The large expenditure needed all at once is hard for smaller bodies to finance, and easy for the state to finance. But, it can also create situations where we have beautiful buildings and students crammed 40 to a room because we don't have enough teachers for them.

Technology funding is a slightly different issue. Technology funding for poor schools comes through Title I (federal funding for high poverty schools) and is earmarked for specific purposes. These line items get into the federal budget due to lobbying by big tech companies, which turn around and offer school districts a deal on, say, a zillion iPads, in an effort to lock you in to their proprietary technology and get you paying for licenses forever. So Apple pays lobbyists, money goes into campaigns, etc., the federal government appropriates tax dollars for high-poverty schools to buy technology and dictates specifically what sorts they can buy, the schools use those federal dollars to buy discounted iPads, and then have to pay for technology licenses out of local tax money for years. Everyone wins! (Except the schools.) They're also usually "use it or lose it" dollars where if you don't spend it all, your award for the next year gets reduced. We could really use WiFi infrastructure in our buildings, but the grants are for laptops and iPads.

"terribly mismanaged. And I strongly believe that both of those problems could be solved with smart, measured intervention from the state and/or federal government."

There are some seriously badly mismanaged local districts out there, it's true. But Missouri actually has been taking over some failed schools/districts the past couple years, and so far it's been a pretty unmitigated clusterfracas, from what I hear from friends in Missouri. It's the same but moreso: inexpert politicians with agendas to push putting inadequate funding in the schools, and they don't really care because it's not their community and they won't lose their jobs over it. Local mismanagement at least has the virtue that people care about the kids and/or their jobs. While good local management makes a difference, I haven't really seen a state takeover work anywhere, and federal laws are really penalizing failing schools right now rather than driving any improvement. I think it's structurally a much deeper problem, starting with how we fund schools and how we attack poverty holistically -- or rather, how we don't -- as a society.

tl;dr, I really liked the pictures! And bolting teachers to the floor is probably not a realistic solution to American school funding problems. Probably.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:07 PM on September 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I have traveled extensively to a number of these countries, and had first-hand exposure to the educational system.

America has its work seriously cut out for it. The noticeable absence in the link is China . If the average American saw a glimpse into the Chinese classroom, his heart would skip a beat - and not in a good way. ...

The Russians pose no threat, as they are attempting mostly to get into American schools,...

The Arabs are very weak in education, they want higher education in America,...

Germany and Europe at large offer attractive, culturally compatible roads into the America...

It all comes back to China - They don't want to live in the USA. ...
Sorry for mangling your comment, but I thought I would highlight how odd your thoughts are. I don't know what to call it, but you're very focussed on this specific idea that people with education are a threat to the US, but only if you can't assimilate them. I mean, what?
posted by Jehan at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, on another note, is most of the US state education as segregated as Missouri? Wikipedia says the city is about 50% black, but the classroom is 100% black. What gives?
posted by Jehan at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2012


Also, on another note, is most of the US state education as segregated as Missouri?

I would say in most areas yes. When the courts started forcing school districts to integrate many white families fled to the suburbs and many of the remaining families withdrew their children from the public school district. Locally, IIRC, the city is about 40% white and the school district enrollment about 10% with many schools having few, if any, white students.
posted by MikeMc at 12:57 PM on September 15, 2012


"What gives?"

It's a combination of the legacy of white flight and red-lining, in urban areas; highly segregated neighborhoods; and, in cities with a significant historic Catholic population, the fact that a parallel set of schools was established prior to WWII for working-class and middle-class Catholics, who were almost exclusively white.

You'll find a number of white families who decided to stay in the city limits often did so because their families have lived in St. Louis for three generations and have always attended Saint Somebody school, which is where they send their kids. On the one hand these schools and the Catholic communities provide an anchor that keep middle-class families in the city who might otherwise have white-flighted to the suburbs with everybody else. On the other hand, it helps perpetuate a highly-segregated school system, and reinforce the idea that the public schools are for the poor.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:35 PM on September 15, 2012


I was also very surprised by the 16% primary school age Germans not in school, that figure has to be wrong or they're using a very strict definition of primary school age that the German system might not overlap with.

In the US people tend to lord over how much "critical thinking" is taught in American schools as opposed to the Asian system of "rote learning" but in my own experience I don't think that's really the case. I had an average American public school experience so I didn't go to a poor inner city school nor did I attend a fancy private school. In most of my classes the teachers just had you sit quietly and fill out some stupid worksheet that could be completed by reading the chapter and filling in the blanks in sentences lifted almost word for word from the textboook. In most classes you felt the teachers didn't really give a shit and none of the kids did either. And in my 6th grade math class, I was give an F on an assignment because I had completed it in pen rather than pencil even though my answers were all correct, because "you just can't do math with a pen"(I intentionally used pen for every math assignment for years later out of spite). Not to mention spelling tests, which I imagine are only really a thing in English language schools owing to our language's bizarre orthography, but are an almost perfect example of rote learning and memorization. We had those all the way up until 12th grade AP English class.

Also, how awesome is it that in Taiwan they get a nap time after lunch? I don't think there's anything "ingrained in the culture" like the photographer writes, I think it's totally normal to get drowsy in the afternoon after having lunch. I would have loved to have a sanctioned nap time as opposed to nodding off during afternoon classes.
posted by pravit at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding the uniform situation in Russia: uniforms were pretty common in Soviet times. Here is a stereotypical Soviet elementary classroom. I entered Soviet preschool in the late 80s and have a bunch of pictures of 5-year-old me in a crisp brown preschool uniform. We didn't wear them every day, it was more common just to wear the pants (or some other kind of dress slacks) and a dress shirt. The uniform was a big point of pride. It also held a lot of Soviet symbolism (pins, kerchief, etc.). Older kids were expected to be neater and cleaner, and wore their uniforms more regularly.

I started grade school in 1991, which was a big year for several other reasons. There were shortages and it was difficult to obtain uniforms in the right sizes and at reasonable prices. Schools made a fuss, but had to accept the fact that many children would attend without uniforms. Again, kids mostly wore slacks, dress shirts, sweaters, that sort of thing. (I also remember tediously having to carry a change of footwear during the cold months.)

By the mid-1990s, there was growing public awareness that state universities were drifting out of many students' reach. Attendance was still superficially free, but there was now an array of hidden fees and mandatory bribes to secure admission, to register, to guarantee a seat, etc. My family started telling me that I probably wouldn't be able to go to university. (A similar situation was building with medical services: treatment was "free," but patients were expected to secure and deliver all medication and supplies, and pay the medical personnel under the table to ensure timely and adequate treatment.)

Also in the mid-90s, private options were popping up, at the secondary (post-8th grade) and tertiary (post-high school) levels. These institutions had names like lycée and gymnasium. Attendance required expensive tuition (an added expense that the budgets of many working families didn't have any room for), and they generally seemed directed at the children of well-connected families. This was the beginning of a wave of stratification in popular education in post-Soviet countries.

I obviously don't have a school-aged child in a Russian school today, but all the polls and articles I've seen suggest that these trends have basically continued. Families of schoolchildren still treat education with formal respect, and children seem to be attending school dressed to the nines, whenever possible (compare "church clothes" in parts of the US). On the other hand, the two capital centers, Moscow and Peter, are worlds unto themselves. Moscow has an extremely expensive and wealthy city center, surrounded by peripheral communities of the working poor and piles of decrepit housing for immigrant workers. One of my cousins comes from an affluent family, finished an elite and specialized school in, basically, Russia's Manhattan, and graduated from MGU. In all of her photos, from high school to today, she is wearing haute couture fashions. Another one of my cousins finished his mandatory 11 grades in a decrepit provincial school and definitely didn't wear Prada.
posted by Nomyte at 1:57 PM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


... I would highlight how odd your thoughts are.

Last time I checked, MetaFilter is still a U. S. thing, with American posters.

As one of those Americans, I consider it important to contribute how the USA can continue to be successful as a country in the global chessboard, and what might threaten our #1 spot on earth. A great contributor of our success has been our educational system: to attract immigrant brain power, enable them to do more, and assimilate them.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:15 PM on September 15, 2012


It's a lot harder to read what's written on a blackboard, especially if you have poor eyesight or are sitting in the back of the room, it takes longer to write on them and longer to clean them (and this time is important both in terms of learning time wasted and in terms of holding students' attention during transitions), the chalk is a pain in the ass (more minor complaint), and it's harder to write largely and neatly enough that students can understand.

So, there's this thing called 'railroad chalk'. It's bigger, so you write bigger by default. When I'm teaching in a long room, that's what I use because my handwriting is fairly small and that I way I don't have to remember to write bigger. I'm likely biased by being in a math department, which are generally fairly resistant to change, but I drastically prefer teaching with chalk. (I haven't had a class as a student in a room with a whiteboard since high school. Whiteboards are substantially more expensive, which likely explains their absence from my undergrad experience.) With markers, inevitably you reach a point where all the markers in the room suck and you have to wait for the marker fairy to replace them. The chalk fairy is much better at keeping up with chalk usage, since you don't have to test chalk to see if it works and, in the absence of the chalk fairy (i.e. the status quo at my undergrad institution), a box of chalk is not so expensive that having to buy your own is frustrating.

The one thing I noticed when I got glasses in sixth grade was that the Latin teacher's whiteboard markers weren't actually running out all the time, which is what I had assumed because they looked so faded. Latin was held in a room that had been converted to a classroom and thus was the only classroom with a whiteboard. I didn't notice that chalk was suddenly readable.

A great contributor of our success has been our educational system: to attract immigrant brain power, enable them to do more, and assimilate them.

Damn it, I didn't know that passport made me the Borg.
posted by hoyland at 6:44 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last time I checked, MetaFilter is still a U. S. thing, with American posters.

Even (especially?) as a US-based Mefite, I find your narrow-mindedness remarkable.
posted by Nomyte at 7:54 PM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


... what might threaten our #1 spot on earth.

Did you know that there are many measurements of quality-of-life where the United States is quite far below #1? I could track them down, but I'd rather not take the time if you're already aware.

Last time I checked, MetaFilter is still a U. S. thing

I wasn't aware of that. Can you tell me where you checked this? I'd be interested to read more about it.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:26 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


These pictures were really cool! It certainly made me more aware of how lucky I am to be in a really good school, where, with the typical narrow-mindedness of teenagers, we complain about having to keep the air-conditioning off until 9. Twenty-six per class, tops, and I'm embarrassed I ever do complain.

And it made me consider how I'll miss high school. Sigh. Thanks!
posted by undue influence at 4:01 AM on September 16, 2012


There are some more pictures here.

The picture of the Dutch elementary there reminded me of a basic thing about our educational system that doesn't seem to basic when you look at pictures from different countries.

We always got chairs and tables according to our size. All the other classrooms seem just to go by averages.
posted by ijsbrand at 4:54 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


A bit about Russian uniforms: back in the USSR, they were mandatory everywhere. Right around the time of breakup, there was a general slackening of rules in (many? most?) schools, one of them was that it was no longer mandatory and students promptly started wearing whatever they wanted -- in our school it was mostly sweaters, light jackets, nothing like business-like suits shown in the photo; another change that happened at the same time was that fountain pens were no longer required, either.

The comment under that photo is quite misleading, there are plenty of rundown, overcrowded, poor schools all over the country with most students coming from poor working class or lower middle class background. It may be not millionaire's kids, but I bet it's in top 5% income type of school, or a separate business-oriented class in a regular school.
posted by rainy at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2012


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