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Belgian vs. American students
January 14, 2006 7:03 AM   Subscribe

The Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks. For "Stupid in America," a special report ABC will air Friday, we gave identical tests to high school students in New Jersey and in Belgium. [...] The Belgian kids called the American students "stupid." Interesting insights into the different school systems employed in both countries.
posted by slater (124 comments total)

 
And here's the 20/20 site on their show.
posted by Atreides at 7:17 AM on January 14, 2006


I can't believe an ABC News correspondent is will to say something like..

"This should come as no surprise once you remember that public education in the USA is a government monopoly. Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. Your taxes fund that school regardless of whether it's good or bad. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse. "

It's not as if a government monopoly can't deliver a decent education system, there are plenty of countries where it works just fine.
posted by ascullion at 7:29 AM on January 14, 2006


Yeah, this is basically a right-wing "free enterprise" puff piece. I went through a state school system which gave a very good education. It's perfectly possible. I suspect the writer got closer to the truth of why American schools are failng when he suggested that the issue might have something to do with complacency and insularity.
posted by Decani at 7:33 AM on January 14, 2006


Oh, John Stossel. No surprise there.

He's the king of interviewing someone he disagrees with, then intercutting himself shaking his head slightly with a wry mouth and maybe a voice over saying "Blah blah blah?! That's crazy!"
posted by fleetmouse at 7:33 AM on January 14, 2006


I didn't see the report but while I would hardly dispute the assertion that the U.S. public schoool system is largely an embarrasing national tragedy I'm curious as to why Belgium was the only other country compared. Was it simply to push the union busting theme or are there truly no available examples of a well functioning yet unionized school system elsewhere? As a product of U.S. schools I wouldn't know.
posted by well_balanced at 7:34 AM on January 14, 2006


I can't believe an ABC News correspondent is will to say something like..

John Stossel. what did you expect?
posted by rxrfrx at 7:35 AM on January 14, 2006


John Stossel also had some innovative ideas about resource distribution in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2006


Oh, and I thought they canceled Magnum P.I. What gives?
posted by well_balanced at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2006


Bah. The US kids would shine if the test included some questions on Intelligent Design.
posted by spazzm at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2006


John Stossel. what did you expect?

I guess I'm surprised ABC have such opinionated correspondents.
posted by ascullion at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2006


hmm... sorry, didn't know about this "John Stossel" guy :-/
posted by slater at 7:49 AM on January 14, 2006


I respect Stossel, although I have opportunities to really disagree with him.

The ABC summary mentions South Carolina. I can tell you what would happen with completely open vouchers in South Carolina. All the white kids would end up at one school, all the black kids at a different one. Guess which school would end up getting all the money? On top of that, you have fundamentalists wanting to use school vouchers (that's tax money, remember) to fund their ideological indoctrination. It's an ugly, tangled mess.

Ideally, people should just stop automatic promotion of students from grade to grade. Are people going to be able to agree on standardized testing? Are parents going to accept that little Jimmy is going to be held back a grade, or are they going to yell at school administrators until they get satisfaction?

Curricula are tougher in Europe, too. How many U.S. high schools require a foreign language in order to graduate? How many teach honest-to-goodness world history?

On the flipside, how many European schools spend money and resources on football or basketball tournaments?

(Experience: I was an exchange student in 1978. I saw the gap firsthand. My assumption is that if anything has changed since then, the U.S. has only fallen further behind.)
posted by gimonca at 7:53 AM on January 14, 2006


"If people got to choose their kids' school, education options would be endless. There could soon be technology schools, cheap Wal-Mart-like schools, virtual schools where you learn at home on your computer..."

Somehow I don't think Mr Stossel has thought that one through.
posted by jaronson at 7:54 AM on January 14, 2006


That is one of the worst pieces of silliness I have read in some time. Now I have no quarrel with the comments on NY unions--I have a cousin in the system and he tells me about it--but unions are simply not the casue of poor education in American schools. But wait! Public schools are the problem! Right. And the schools in Belgium are, we are to imagine, all private? Let's begin by comparing apples and apples. Are we measuring public schools in two countries or a private versus a public or just what?

tip: I consider myself hardly a conservative but I had recently read an piece by George Will on education. Will,. a well known conservative, does not attack the unions but rather says the quickest way to fix American education is to shut down ASAP all schools of education at our universities...having worked in the university system for some 25 years, I would agree.
posted by Postroad at 7:57 AM on January 14, 2006


Give me a break!
posted by youarenothere at 8:01 AM on January 14, 2006


John Stossel is a pompous shill who couldn't pass that test himself. But there's no question American kids, in general, are being ill served by public education. The fault has to be located beyond the schools as such though. Most major American institutions, including families, government, and the media, are proudly, publicly anti-intellectual. Being smart is a matter of shame, unless you also happen to be rich because of it.

On the other hand, at least we don't put mayo on our freedom fries.
posted by spitbull at 8:08 AM on January 14, 2006


how many European schools spend money and resources on football or basketball tournaments?

You mean american football? Not much, as there's no coverage whatsoever. But I've been in Switzerland all my life, and we used to play lots of basketball in school. Besides, aren't the balkan states (predominantly croatia and serbia) big in international basketball?
posted by slater at 8:09 AM on January 14, 2006


I live in Germany and am amazed at the types of hands-on projects middle school kids do here.

I watched a group of kids juggle fire at an open house...I was thinking American "they are going to kill us all" and nothing happened.

The kids came up with an idea, practiced it and then performed it with pride.

It is also nice that all the kids have to pick languages to learn at an early age. Helps them in the long run and gives them insight on how the rest of Earth lives.
posted by kyleebrock at 8:14 AM on January 14, 2006


Stossel has some interestin ideas. butthis isn't one of them...
posted by ParisParamus at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2006


The bit about Belgium funding all schools, but giving parents the choice of which to send a student to? I like that idea. Cap it off, flat rate, X amount of dollars per student. Make it a business. It's what we're good at. Of course we'd probably find some way to fuck it up. That's the other thing we're good at.

Of course we also have this idiocy in America where parents expect that their kids will do perfect work. We need to get back to where we originally were - back when a C was actually the average grade, and a 4.0 GPA meant something. These days, you graduate high school with a 4.0 GPA, that means you were probably 32nd in your class.

Then they come to college and expect me to spoonfeed them. Many of these kids have no idea how to study because they weren't challenged in high school. They want my lecture notes, and study guides, and practice tests, and extra credit. They want me to give them 1 or 5 or 10 or 30 points for free at the end of the semester to get the grade they think they earned. When I tell them "hell no" they get whiny. When I tell them that 10 years ago my professors would have laughed me out of the room for making similar requests they think I'm making it up.

If we get rid of this sense of entitlement - the expectation that they need do nothing to succeed - that will make a huge difference in our school system. We spend four or more years teaching our high school kids that sports are more important than grades, and that mom and dad can fix everything with a phone call to the school administration.

The other problem I have seen is that people will usually vote to raise qualification standards for teachers. As a result, fewer teachers meet the minimum qualifications (do you really need a master's degree to teach preschool? Seriously?) but refuse to raise the pay, driving a lot of otherwise good people out of the business. Who wants to go to school for that long to make that little money? The schools end up hiring underqualified temps to make up for the teacher shortage. Then the parents are saddled with an incompetent teacher and the cycle begins again.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:22 AM on January 14, 2006


Ignoring the research vacuum in many former-Soviet countries, public education is still fairly good and completely controlled by the government, such as in Ukraine or Moldova.

School choice is a big deal in Moldova, where many parents have the choice to send their children to a Romanian-curriculum French/English school or a Russian-curriculum Romanian/French one. With very little resources and scant tax revenue thousands of children in Moldova are bilingual and manage to learn French and/or English, in addition to their native Romanian and near-native Russian.

It would be interesting to compare American and FSU schools with similar funding.
posted by vkxmai at 8:23 AM on January 14, 2006


I watched the epsiode last night (friday night is reserved for trash tv viewing in my household). It was so poorly reported ABC may as well classify its entire Friday night lineup as a newsprogram -- because "Hope & Faith" was about as insightful as "20/20."

Stossel repeatedly compared the current school system to the old MaBell phone monopoly -- completely ignoring the fact that parents today still have the option of sending their children to a private school, or to home school their children if they prefer. Yes, there are instances where economics prevent parents from doing this, but that's still not a monopoly; whereas back in the day phone consumers had one choice and one choice *only* - Ma Bell. (Stossel also implied that breaking up the phone monopoloy gave rise to cell phones -- as if technology wouldn't have advanced w/out busting the monopoloy; and completely ingnored the fact that phone bills/service generate some of the most complaints amongst consumers, so it's not as if competition has made things 100% perfect on that front).

Ugh. I could go on and on about that shoddy piece of work. Stossel simply cherry-picked examples that proved his point and ignored contradictions that were obviously staring him (and his viewers) in the face. Example: one segment found a principal who claimed that money was irrelevant for improving education and that schools didn't need fancy things like "computers" to teach. Stossel used this interview throughout the first half of the special to stress how we didn't need to spend as much money as we did on students. Then, in the second half of the piece, Stossel attacked teachers unions, saying that they drove up teachers salaries and in some instances prevented schools from buying necessary teaching instruments like computers -- computers which, 20 minutes earlier in the special we were told were completely uncessary for a good education.

youarenothere got it right -- Give me a break!
posted by herc at 8:23 AM on January 14, 2006


I'd bitch about this article but that would be preaching to the choir. In Belgium I believe after primary education which is largely uniform students may attend either general, technical, artistic, or vocational programs. I believe this to be a generally superior way to educate kids, but even if it was worse it may still explain the results. They probably gave the test to students of the general curriculum which would self select for students that would do well at this kind of test.

While I'm sure a very interesting piece could be done on problems with strong teacher's unions it wouldn't be the same piece as problems with the american educational system. The article itself seems to support the claim that it isn't our lazy teachers that cause us to fail but our one size fits all education system. At age 10 Americans are well above the international average, by age 15 we're behind. Is it just our secondary teachers that are lazy? Our primary school teachers seem to be doing fine. I guess there not in unions and they parent's shuffle their children to the best schools when they're in primary school and not in secondary school.

In Belgium primary school goes from age 6 to 12, and specialized secondary school goes from 12 to 18. By 15 their students are doing better than ours, so it seems reasonable that it isn't America's educational system that's failing it's America's secondary school's that are failing.

It isn't as though we haven't had experiments with privately run schools and school choice in this country. We have, and the didn't tend to perform better than public schools when adjusted for things like education of the parents and average income of the faimilies except for a certain case specialized art focused or science focused or other types focused schools. I don't have a link for that but I think it was in freakonomics. Specialized education seems to work better and I think we would do well to emulate it, but it does have it's negatives, life decisions are made earlier and their is less shared culture to draw from which may be more important for the comparatively diverse United states than certain countries in Europe.
posted by I Foody at 8:27 AM on January 14, 2006


How competitive are Belgian schools?

I do think, however that most teachers are mediocre or worse, and that the education and teaching system here is very screwed-up: TOO MUCH money, not too little.

I also question the idea of full-time, career teachers. I just know, KNOW from my experience in an "above-average" suburban school that radical changes are needed.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:27 AM on January 14, 2006


Stossel is a cheap hack. He rarely provides a balanced view on things so you can never trust his pieces. You could not trust him to compare apples to apples either. For instance, in Belgium secondary education is divided, with only a portion of the students on a college bound track, the rest in technical, arts, or basic education. You can be sure the students from Belgium were chosen from the college bound group, and I doubt Stossel bothered to mention this. This would pit the cream of the Belgium crop against regular students from a good school in the US. Apples and oranges. Students in AP courses vesus the Belgium college bound track - that would seem about right, with perhaps a slight edge to the AP students.

Despite my beef with Stossel's methods in general, I do think the US schools are a mess.
posted by caddis at 8:29 AM on January 14, 2006


The structure of Belgium's school system
posted by I Foody at 8:31 AM on January 14, 2006


Caddis: spot on.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:36 AM on January 14, 2006


Stossel is a dishonest hack and his piece is absolutely dripping with, if not outright lies, then breathtaking cognitive dissonance.

Look, he's saying that the American schools are bad because they are a government monopoly? Well, first of all, the poor logic of the implied syllogism displayed by that conclusion is proof of his own stupidity and "poor education". He is an embarrassment to the United States media culture.

More generally, does he know anything about Europe? They're goddamn mixed economies with significant "socialistic" components of precisely the type people in his tribe decry (remember the "old Europe" meme, folks?). One could, on the contrary, argue (but I won't) that European education, not to mention health care, is superior to ours because it is a "state monopoly".

But his piece entirely misses the point, as do I think many of the posters here. The idea that our eductational system sucks is a myth. What sucks is our intellectual culture. The United States is renowned for, and we even take pride in, our anti-intellectualism. Our children are awash in a shallow consumer culture that values celebrity and wealth, not intellect. I don't give a damn how good your educational system is in that context. Kids won't be motivated to learn if they think education is for noobs. Just think of media images of education--how many positive images in films, for example, can you think of? And then, just look at the guy we elected to be president. Could a people who value learning tolerate such a person? I don't think so.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:40 AM on January 14, 2006


So Belgium has better beer, better bike racers and now better schools than the USA. Sigh.
posted by fixedgear at 8:41 AM on January 14, 2006


Oh yeah, and waffles.
posted by fixedgear at 8:41 AM on January 14, 2006


" quickest way to fix American education is to shut down ASAP all schools of education at our universities"

"I do think, however that most teachers are mediocre or worse"

It's parents with arrogant opinions like these that are one of the biggest problems with the public school system. It's so fucking easy to blame the teachers. Do either one of you tools have any idea how hard most teachers in the public system work and how little they earn for their trouble? In my experience it's the PARENTS that make the difference and not the teachers for christ sake.

And btw - Stossel gets an A+ for being an idiot. Why anyone would take anything he says seriously is beyond me. He doesn't give a shit about schools or anything else - he cares about ratings and making enough money to keep his stache expertly groomed.
posted by photoslob at 8:42 AM on January 14, 2006


What sucks is our intellectual culture. The United States is renowned for, and we even take pride in, our anti-intellectualism. Our children are awash in a shallow consumer culture that values celebrity and wealth, not intellect. I don't give a damn how good your educational system is in that context. Kids won't be motivated to learn if they think education is for noobs.

I was thinking along those lines, but didn't want to attack the US generically without having facts to back it up. I think mainland UK is going a similar way - going to university in Scotland, the difference between the attitude of the students that came from here, and the students that came from mainland Europe, was striking (apologies for generalisations).
posted by ascullion at 8:46 AM on January 14, 2006


On the comparison between schools and businesses...

Jamie Vollmer: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson:
She began quietly. "We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream."

I smugly replied, "Best ice cream in America, Ma'am."

"How nice," she said. "Is it rich and smooth?"

"Sixteen percent butterfat," I crowed.

"Premium ingredients?" she inquired.

"Super-premium! Nothing but Triple A." I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

"Mr. Vollmer," she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, "when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?"

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap. I knew I was dead meat, but I wasn't going to lie.

"I send them back."

"That's right!" she barked, "and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's school!"

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, "Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!"

And so began my long transformation.
A hat tip to TeacherKen who adds insightful commentary on this story.
posted by edverb at 8:47 AM on January 14, 2006


Duh. We score 25th out of 40. But we can't just look at the 24 in front of us, find the best practices, and then do it? We are indeed stupid. And lazy. And spoiled. That's why we can't have better schools - We're spoiled, lazy and stupid. We treat our kids like special snowflakes. We encourage them to game the system. Etc etc. And then our schools and teachers are obligated to indulge such idiocy, because they don't have any options other than treating kids like special snowflakes. Of course we don't give them the tools and resources to do that, and we make sure any money they do get is tried up in bureaucratic crap and worthless requirements.

We like Congress and Walmart so much e decided to make our schools a combination of those.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:53 AM on January 14, 2006


The idea that education in the US is a government monopoly while in Europe it's all open to choice and competition is a bit, um, original? even, a lie? and where does he get the idea that it's easier to fire a teacher in Europe than in the US?

Very confused...
posted by funambulist at 8:56 AM on January 14, 2006


If you only ever look at one tiny slice of a huge problem, you will become convinced that that tiny slice of the problem is the most important thing. The issues with the American education system are huge and complex (and vary from state to state) and, thus, not possible to boil down into an eight minute puff piece on a Newsmagazine show. Indeed, you can't really address them adequately in a six paragraph Metafilter entry.

That being said, there is a serious problem with the methodology of the 20/20 show. Looking at two groups of students and saying that they are representative of all students from each country is going to produce innacurate results.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:57 AM on January 14, 2006


Mondo dentro:

First, many, many smart people support and respect President Bush. Other than that, I agree with your comments--mostly.

Much of the problem is parents; not arrogant parents, but parents too narcissistic to devote themselves to being good parents.

When I am a parent--not yet--I will be living for my child/ren. And incredibly active and proactive in helping them study and learn.

Still, I have grave concerns about teaching in the US. I think it values the wrong things in teachers--those who can tolerate bureaucracies.

I don't believe that smart people, people who are naturally gifted teachers, enjoy bureaucracies. Less bureaucracy, and smarter, more talented people will gravitate towards teaching.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:03 AM on January 14, 2006


These are the fruits of an anti-intellectual culture. What incentive is there to get good grades and take more challenging and interesting classes? In other cultures there is a huge social and economic incentive to do well, especially in countries where publicly financed higher-education means that only so many people will be able to get a free ride in college, leaving the rest to either keep re-testing or enroll in a private university. I'm almost always surprised and very pleased when I talk to immigrant students or exchange students and hear about how schools in their country are focused on academics and not a "kids prison" where everyone steps over each other in an attempt to try to be cooler than the guy next to you.

This is all fairly ironic if you consider the argument over at Reason.com is that the European system is doing it right, but I'm sure they'd cry foul at the European university system. My understanding from my relatives abroad is students who go to private universities do so only because they're not good enough for public school.

caution live frogs' comment reflects my own experiences. I had no real study skills or discipline to speak of when I got out of high school. Teachers handed out B's for showing up and doing the homework. I found my first year of college to be difficult and tried to coax my professors into giving me some extra credit. I wasn't alone, I'm sure most professor's office hours were spent with someone just like me begging for 5 or 10 more points. Eventually I realized the University was simply doing its job and I had to change my ways.

Oh, what horrible public high school did I go to? Which state-sponsered nanny state tax devourer didn't prepare me for college? What horrible teacher's union never taught me and my peers proper study skills and let us coast by? None. I went to a private school.

Privatization is no educational panacea. I've also been to a public school, which had more resources and classes but the peer pressure to be "cool" and embrace anti-intellectualism was incredible compared to private schools. That's probably the big benefit in the US for going the private route; smaller environments tend not to be taken over by jock-ocracy, but thats just a function of size, not where they get their money from.

This what Stossel, Conservatives, and Libertarians are unable to admit. There is simply something seriously wrong with American culture. It is an anti-intellectual culture. It is a culture of entitlement. As long as it remains this way it doesn't matter who your throw your educational dollars at.
posted by skallas at 9:06 AM on January 14, 2006


PP:

First, many, many smart people support and respect President Bush.

I never said anything about intelligence per se. I was speaking specifically about being educated. Bush is a very ignorant man, and proudly so. He is the kind of person who sees being a "man of action" as antithetical to being "smart" (i.e. educated). Bush supporters (honest ones, at least) can't deny that his entire persona is designed to appeal to some notion of "the regular" guy who doesn't have much use for "book learnin". And this is not a partisan issue: it is part of the fabric of our culture. Even Clinton, widely acknowledged to be super smart and well educated, had to play at being a good ol' boy.

I don't believe that smart people, people who are naturally gifted teachers, enjoy bureaucracies.

It may surprise to you learn that a lefty like me agrees with you. But perhaps that's because the notion that left and right wing ideologies are distinguished by which is likes bureaucracy more is another great operative myth of our time. One can be both a lefty and a libertarian, as I am.

Less bureaucracy, and smarter, more talented people will gravitate towards teaching.

I would argue that bureacracy is less of an issue than the valuing of financial reward as an end in itself. I have always felt alienated from my own culture in that it clearly says to me "if you're so smart, why ain't you rich?" From a dogmatic, radical free market perspective, talented people involved in elementary education are just being stupid because, in terms of the market place, they are failing to capitalize on their talent.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:18 AM on January 14, 2006


skallas writes "This what Stossel, Conservatives, and Libertarians are unable to admit. There is simply something seriously wrong with American culture. It is an anti-intellectual culture. It is a culture of entitlement. As long as it remains this way it doesn't matter who your throw your educational dollars at."

I agree with this completely. However, the problem with that position is that it doesn't lend itself to a solution. Is there a solution? Crap. I don't mean to be defeatist, but is America royally fucked?
posted by brundlefly at 9:23 AM on January 14, 2006


paris: I think it values the wrong things in teachers--those who can tolerate bureaucracies.

I know two teachers and they are hardly the bogeymen you describe. They're good and intelligent people. They care about their jobs alot more than I care about mine. They're at home nights grading papers. They're talking to angry parents because their kid got a C in their class. Depending on your disposition its either a challenging job or a shit job. That last thing they are are these button-down Chicago-style teamsters who love bureaucracy and run home to cash their big fat paychecks.

Pray tell, what is the world's most gifted and intelligent teacher supposed to do in front of a group of kids who have no incentive to learn, have been raised in an anti-intellectual culture, and know that if they show up daily the school will end up giving them C's because mom and dad will yell at all the pencil-pushing "bureaucrats" at the school board?

What's gifted mean to you? More "Dead Poets Society" gimmicks and nonsense so the kids can all say "Wow, learning is cool!" A rebelous anti-bureaucrat riding his harley into the classroom because your kid is too apathetic to pay attention to normal lectures and old-fashioned "bureaucracy" like books and tests?

The anti-teacher sentiment is mind-boggling at times, but it does make for a nice scapegoat for parents when needed.

Also, while I'm at it, I don't think the hard-nosed profit seekering A-personalities are ever going to go for teaching. Competitive types probably don't want to spend their nights grading papers, dealing with parents, dealing with kids, taking time out of their day to help one struggling student, etc. They're better off with MBAs or embedding themselves in academia where they can publish, do reseach, etc.

Although I'd love to see the look on your face when the overachievers take all the teaching jobs, demand strict 8 hour days, including lunch, and speed off in their BMWs the second the bell rings. You're going to miss that old bureaucrat who actually cared about the job and not simply the money. Not to say bonuses are a bad idea, but to treat teaching the very same as any corporate job is bound to end up badly. Things that work in the business world don't usually translate well into non-profits and government in general. Apples and oranges, man.
posted by skallas at 9:30 AM on January 14, 2006


America, as you might think of it, is royally fucked. Unless of course you think of it as an anti-intellectual culture that breeds crass loud-mouthed thugs who acheive their aims by main force - essentially a nation wide jock-ocracy.

If the world was Riverdale and the nations were characters from Archie comics, America would be the grotesque result of Veronica breeding with Moose.
posted by C.Batt at 9:33 AM on January 14, 2006


First, many, many smart people support and respect President Bush.

Name one. Stupid is as stupid supports.
posted by spitbull at 9:39 AM on January 14, 2006


So Belgium has better beer, better bike racers and now better schools than the USA. Sigh.
posted by fixedgear at 11:41 AM EST on January 14 [!]


We have better weather, except for Seattle.
posted by caddis at 9:41 AM on January 14, 2006


spitbull writes "Name one. Stupid is as stupid supports."

My uncle, actually. One of the smartest guys I know, but he's blinded by his ideology (and, I think, his post-9/11 fear).
posted by brundlefly at 9:42 AM on January 14, 2006


Stossel is a tool--he always does the same story--Government bad, private good. He's been doing it for years.

And he lies a lot. That Reason piece is full of them: That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse. , and using the NYC School System as a stand-in boogeyman for whatever NJ School was used is bait-and-switch. We have over a million kids in the system, are proven to be underfunded by the state for decades, and have politicians continually using the system, the union and teachers as scapegoats. What NJ School was used? How many kids? What neighborhood?

Stupid in America really perfectly describes Stossel himself. He's pushing anti-public school propaganda. This is a good rebuttal too: ...so you can get ahead of the curve by reading up on the progress that public education is making in your state and across the nation. Find a great list of resources on NSBA’s web site here.
Especially helpful is the NEA’s state-by-state breakdown of public education progress. Also the Center for Education Policy publishes a roundup of indicators that shows progress nationally."

posted by amberglow at 9:44 AM on January 14, 2006


What sucks is our intellectual culture. The United States is renowned for, and we even take pride in, our anti-intellectualism. Our children are awash in a shallow consumer culture that values celebrity and wealth, not intellect. I don't give a damn how good your educational system is in that context. Kids won't be motivated to learn if they think education is for noobs.

That certainly is a serious issue in the US.
posted by caddis at 9:44 AM on January 14, 2006


part of the issue is that our school system (and university system) is part and parcel of our consumerist society. you have to have a good job to keep up "appearances"--have your big McMansion, your two SUVs, maybe one sportscar, two snowmobiles, boat, vacations in Aruba... this is the american dream, and for middle american kids who grew up in this environment, the idea is that it is Necessity. Real Life. in order to get a decent job in this country, you must have your high school grades, and then a college degree. it is not about academic achievement or personal growth so much as getting the letters that get you into the school you want, and then the ability to get your piece of paper so you can compete for your coveted job in a cubicle somewhere.

as a result, there is a clear expectation that showing up means getting your grades. going to college means professors will honor the new agreement: i deserve that piece of paper because i've (or mom and dad) paid for it. college is not optional, and therefore a professor has no right to deny that piece of paper for shoddy achievement. an anti-intellectual society has bred a new world of education consumers. that is why the usual "why do we have to learn this?" appears to be at an all-time high. for a student with his eyes on the American Prize Lifestyle, Shakespeare is a joke.

because of money issues, schools will become about consumer choices. it is the reality of the future, whether we like it or not. school districts will have virtual schools (and are creating them at an incredible rate) because it will make them money, and they no longer are given the money for that deteriorating bricks and mortar. as teachers' pay continues to drop in proportion to inflation, it will only get more entrenched. choice is the wave of the future.

(and i say this as a mostly pro-union, anti-school system ex-teacher. alternatives are the only thing i can see working. also my privileged, well-funded public education sucked ass.)
posted by RedEmma at 9:48 AM on January 14, 2006


Schools are run primarily on the local level through elected school boards. It's about as democratic as government can get.

The problem is not "government monopoly," the problem is an apathetic public that doesn't bother to get involved and vote.
posted by Jatayu das at 9:49 AM on January 14, 2006


Oh crap, now Reason magazine is taking John Stossel seriously? Damn.

FAIR has been screaming about this guy for a decade. Give me a break.
posted by intermod at 9:49 AM on January 14, 2006


In CA, everybody goes to school. Everyone gets tested. No English? Tested. Cut most days? Tested.
From other countries we get results of the top students.
Lets see what happenes when they test everyone in the same age group with every test. A level testing field would give interesting results I'll bet.
posted by cccorlew at 9:54 AM on January 14, 2006


more here: Stossel: Price gouging ensures that scarce resources go only "to those who really need it"

and here--he actually has a thinktank-funded program called "Stossel in the Classroom" -- ...His reports on 20/20 and his hour-long specials on ABC mix simplistic libertarianism with gross factual errors in repetitive and often incoherent rants against any liberally minded ideas.
But Stossel is television's most enthusiastic cheerleader for corporate America. His stances against regulation, equality, and government involvement in anything make him valuable to corporate America, and Disney has rewarded its top free marketeer with a position of enormous authority. No other person on American television has the power to produce his own hour-long documentaries for airing (and erroring) on a prime-time network. ...

posted by amberglow at 9:55 AM on January 14, 2006


agreed, this doesn't mean a thing until you know the methodology. My brother is a vice principle in a public high school and when I talk to him about test scores, he always makes the point that we take all the blueberries, so to speak.

Great link on the structure of the Belgian school system, BTW. So who did they give the test to?
posted by wah at 9:58 AM on January 14, 2006


There are lots of problems with American schools, but unions and the government monoploy are not even on the top fifty list. Our school model is a relic of the Industrial Revolution; it was designed to produce factory workers and when it functioned well, a hundred years ago, no one expected most kids to make it through. High school was not designed to serve all the kids in America and it was never, ever redesigned to accomodate the huge rise of the middle class, the need for the majority of the population to go to college, shifting family structures and all the other changes that have taken place in the last century and a half. The central problem with American high schools is that they are completely outdated institutions which need to be dramatically revamped. They're too big, too bulky, too bureaucratic and they have taken on way, way too much - drivers ed? FFA? Sports uber alles? After school clubs? Dances, proms, and so on? Relics from the past, from a time when high school was the center of a stable community, where you met your mate and started your adult life. And that's before even addressing the very valid points everyone is making above on American anti intellectual & consumer culture.

How many kids in that Belgian school? How many per class? My daughter's (rural, well funded, above average) high school had almost 3000 kids and an average class size of 30 or more. As a former teacher, I can tell you that once the class size gets above, oh, 18 - 20, there are some kids who are going to get lost in the shuffle. There are limits on how many you can pay attention to at once, and meanwhile the administration wants you to shuffle them through like cogs on a factory assembly line.

Sure, the bureaucracy is a mess. It's dismal to try to teach; just attempt to do a mid career switch back into the classroom and you will discover the many crazy obstacles in your path. Praxis I, Praxis II, we'd like all our teachers to take the bus driving test, while you're at it have you taken these tests and these and this class and that one? No, oops, sorry, oh, and by the way now that you've jumped through those hoops we're going to pay you less than $30,000 a year and expect you to be in at 7:00 am, and, oh do you mind taking over the drama club? Teaching, more than any other profession, seems almost designed to weed out bright, creative and innovative people and that's a damn shame. The unions don't make those decisions; the school boards do, and, as we've recently seen demonstrated in Dover, PA, they have firm ideas on the kind of people they want teaching their kids.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:23 AM on January 14, 2006


Our education system sucks because we don't push the students hard enough, and we spend tons of money on fancy computers and TVs for the classroom, which are mostly distractions.
posted by delmoi at 10:36 AM on January 14, 2006


and yes, because the schools are fundementaly mis-designed.
posted by delmoi at 10:39 AM on January 14, 2006


'Our school model is a relic of the Industrial Revolution..."

Spot on, mygothlaundry

See also...
The Underground History of American Education
posted by jaronson at 10:51 AM on January 14, 2006


This is likely to be very idiosyncratic to the school tested. I have 3 children that spent the better part of a year in the Belgian school system (in the German speaking strip along the eastern border). With the exception of the second language curriculum -- French -- the curriculum was less demanding and mostly review of previous grades for my kids. At the high school level, the standards were atrocious with rampant cheating that was simply ignored by the teachers. Many of the students transferred to the German gymnasium system in high school because the educational system was so poor in Belgium at this level.

And I agree - Stossel is a total hack.
posted by bluesky43 at 10:52 AM on January 14, 2006


I also question the idea of full-time, career teachers.

what? how would that work?

an anti-intellectual society has bred a new world of education consumers.

exactly. Some portion of people even seem to think that buying or selling papers is not a major ethical breach; after all, you're not stealing them... all debts paid, what's the problem? I think this stems from the modern american attitude that virtually everything can be measured in economics. If you really love her, you'll get a big diamond. If you really care, you'll buy a fat gift certificate. If you have any worth, you'll make a decent income, and if you make a lot of money, then you're by definition 'successful'. So education becomes just another one of these products one needs to invest in...
posted by mdn at 11:35 AM on January 14, 2006


My assessment of the problem of public schools is that primary education in america is fine, there are a certain set of schools that are fairly necessary to functioning in this society. Elementary education provides most of these skills. It by most international measures does a fine job.

Most European nations have many more vocational programs and specialized, art and music, technology and science, and general schools. General schools provide a liberal arts education and are for young people who will eventually attend a liberal arts university. In America and Europe most young people do not pursue a university education. The difference is that in America we kid ourselves that they ought to. We attempt to prepare every adolescent to attend a four year institution. In doing this we are not operating with an accurate view of the world, most of the students receiving this secondary level liberal arts education are missing either the ability or more importantly the temperament to appreciate it or make use of it.

There are kids interested in science that will benefit greatly from learning trigonometry and chemistry. Instead of reading Julius Ceaser which they could care less about they could learn about how turbines work which may fascinate them. They are not mssing out by not knowing Yeats any more than someone is missing out by not knowing how a Fresnel lens works. Later most will go to a technical university and are in a better position to succeed there because they have more familiarity with the material.

I am not a better person for having learned and forgotten highschool chemistry. I am not a better person for having pretended to read Great Expectations. I am a better person for being engaged in Brave New World and knowing how to value land independent of property built upon it.

What I'm specifically not saying is that highschool kids are well equipped to determine for themselves what they should learn, what I am saying is that there are multiple ways of providing more than adequate levels of literacy, numeracy, technical abilities, and general knowledge of government, economics, law and science and America has chosen one way that works poorly for the vast majority of people. Some broad choice would be a good thing.

American schools, more than other nations' schools, display an outright contempt for the interests, preferences, and needs of the vast majority of its students. It should be little surprise that the feeling is mutual. I am proudly intellectual but I understand and have sympathy for those that anti-intellectual. intellectualism was positioned as the enemy at right angles to everything that these people valued, were curious about, and wanted in there life. This need not be the case.
posted by I Foody at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2006


Much of the problem is parents; not arrogant parents, but parents too narcissistic to devote themselves to being good parents.

When I am a parent--not yet--I will be living for my child/ren. And incredibly active and proactive in helping them study and learn.


PP this sums up the entire conservative point of view - and also exposes its essential flaw. The world is full of selfish, narcissistic people. Full stop. The conservative point of view is to let them suffer the choices they make which is fair enough except that it ignores the simple fact that as a society WE ALL suffer the choices people make. Designing a tax, healthcare, education system that is optimised for the best and brightest and most responsible - and wholly inadequate for the lazy and stupid - is destined to FAIL on the whole. One would think that a conservative - which is a philosophy based on the acceptance of the imperfectability of man - would understand this.
posted by three blind mice at 11:42 AM on January 14, 2006


"I also question the idea of full-time, career teachers.
what? how would that work?"

What I mean is that it should become fairly easy to teach high school as an adjunct, i.e., a non-permanent gig, possibly done along side another job in the "real world." I just experienced so few teachers that impressed me, inspired me, or left any impression at all that this would seem to be the route to follow. i'm talking about high school; not the lower grades; maybe junior high school, too.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:42 AM on January 14, 2006


Gimonca: Curricula are tougher in Europe, too. How many U.S. high schools require a foreign language in order to graduate?

Uh, many. Usually people don't maintain and they only begin in high school, but many do require it, and even if they don't, colleges do, so it ends up being a de facto requirement.

In genral, I'll second the problems of anti-intellectualism as problem #1. I too was lucky enough to go to a private school where you actually got respect for being smart. And about a half of my class ended up getting 4s and 5s on a handful of APs apiece. Because it was worth it. And I can second that great teachers are just driven out of the NYC schools by the crap pay and lack of support. I know so many smart, dedicated people who taught here and ended up leaving because it was just intolerable.

Also, nice thread everyone.
posted by dame at 11:45 AM on January 14, 2006


Lay off Stossel, guys. You'd be pissed, too, if you had to masturbate to Atlas Shrugged at home (or in freelance Reason pieces) instead of in literature class.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:49 AM on January 14, 2006


I understand where you're coming from PP, but I kind of doubt it would work. There's just so much work involved in being a teacher outside of the classroom. If you're not devoted 100% to the job, it doesn't get done.

My mother was an elementary school teacher, recently retired, and spent every evening working... grading papers, et cetera. I would bet that a "part time" teaching job would, in terms of actual hours, equal a full time job in any other profession.
posted by brundlefly at 11:51 AM on January 14, 2006


The idea of shutting down schools of education isn't a bad one. My wife is in the process of getting an education degree, and I am appalled at the curriculum: irrelevant courses, pretentious, impenetrable jargon (building blocks are now manipulatives, folks), and a lot of touch-feely books with titles like The Courage To Teach The Inner Being to Bring Out What Only Love Can Teach through Self-Discovery. Because they have been marginalized with low salaries and social position, the educational establishment has attempted to boost its self-esteem by creating its own kabbalah of jargon and theories. Remember whole-language reading?
posted by QuietDesperation at 11:53 AM on January 14, 2006


I would bet that a "part time" teaching job would, in terms of actual hours, equal a full time job in any other profession.

Yes.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2006


I can't get over how much John Stossel looks like this guy.

That said, I saw part of that show last night. Stossel never fails to make my blood boil. Personally, I'm against the concept of private schools in the first place, but the idea of taking money away from public schools so you can send your kid to a private school outrages me.

If you want to send your child to private school, fine. I don't care if you want to make sure they don't get exposed to any "ideas". You don't get to opt out of paying for public school and working to make it worse for the kids who go there.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2006


Well then, reduce the amount of work outside the classroom. OK, perhaps it's not realistic to do it along side another job, but as a gig for a year or two? I just know there's a major problem that needs fixing.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2006


It looks like a lip service article to the sustainer of free market ideology , not to be confused with the free market theory which remains an interesting model, but it's far from being a problem solving swiss-army-knife theory.

The implied question seems to be: how do one evaluate the job of teachers ?

I think it's rather curious that many people often proclaim that "private is better then public " as if it was unquestionable truth , an article of faith. I find this behavior to be dangerously close to believing blindly to anything priest, tv or politicians say.

As an alumn of both private and public schools during my lifetime, I can say my experience was absolutely not related to the
school being either one. I found good and bad teachers in both..and bad teachers weren't replaced just because we "kids" said
so ; I found my best teacher in a public college teacher, who taught me more in a few months than in a lifetime..a truly gifted
man, but he usually replies to compliments to "I just want to know, I want to learn and I like it when people teach me things I didn't know, so in exchange I teach them ".

I was also lucky enough to have some good friends who teached me about life, and bad friends who taught me to do things I later regretted doing. The best school about people was the military, in which I also learned about corruption, laziness and jingoism.
The worse school so far was some courses in college who taught me to see persons as numbers to be exploited and to fear that if
I don't exploit them then they'll necessarily always exploit me.


Our education system sucks because we don't push the students hard enough,

Delmoi goes the opposite, thinking push is needed. I think pull works a lot better, but to exercise pull you need at least a good
teacher..any idiot can push, dude.

I think RedEmma nailed it:
it is not about academic achievement or personal growth so much as getting the letters that get you into the school you want, and then the ability to get your piece of paper so you can compete for your coveted job in a cubicle somewhere.

The more interested and skilled students, at least in Italy, are very frustrated by the discovery that they can't seek a career
in knowledge without giving up all their financial expectation for the future. Even more frustrating is the discover that glorified idiots like soccer players, tv bufoons or talking heads of any color , business "managers" who are basically only good at stealing ...all of them appear to get a financially secure if not rich lifestyle. Some give up expectations of learning and just want to get "in tune" with the machine, get their job have a family and live their life. Yet education is a lifelong process, too often interrupted, too often forced upon and by instant demand by some industry.
posted by elpapacito at 12:03 PM on January 14, 2006


(Stossel also implied that breaking up the phone monopoloy gave rise to cell phones --

Which is funny considering that cell phones in the US are years behind cell phones in Europe.


Anyways, there are huge sections of the public school system that need work. My girlfriend works in the Waukegan school district and there aren't enough text books for all the students. Teachers either don't give homework, or have to make copies of the assignments. Try learning without a textbook to take home. (Not to mention the fact that in Waukegan they can't get enough people to fill various positions so they rely on staffing agencies which cost them far more than if there were people interested in working in the school district.

One of the things that is slowly killing public schools in America is the misguided notion that a person with no kids (or no kids in that school system) gets nothing out of public schools and therefor they aren't willing to pay taxes to help the schools. They assume they live in a vacumn but don't seem to realize that if they every use anything in that community (say... a hospital) that the nurses and careworkers will come from the underfunded public schools.
posted by drezdn at 12:14 PM on January 14, 2006


The more interested and skilled students, at least in Italy, are very frustrated by the discovery that they can't seek a career
in knowledge without giving up all their financial expectation for the future.
Exactly the same situation in the USA. As a result, teaching on the elementary/secondary level tends not draw the best and the brightest. The answer would be to elevate the profession. One way to do this would be to offer competitive salaries, and attach a guild-like standard of competency (which is supposed to be there anyway). Then teachers would be more likely to police their own. It was tried in New York many years ago, but the union would not budge when it came to firing people; they were happy to accept compensation, but not standards.
posted by QuietDesperation at 12:16 PM on January 14, 2006


>>Instead of reading Julius Ceaser which they could care less about they could learn about how turbines work which may fascinate them.

Err, how are kids supposed to know what they are interested in if they don't get exposed to it? That's one of the ideals of teaching general and varied courses. Exposure.

Also, who determines these specialized roles? At what age do we say, "Oh ok, you're an engineer, get used to it." At 12? 10? Before? I believe that was the Soviet system and it didn't work out so well. Do you think 14 year olds are wise enough in the ways of the world to pick a career and work at it?

I would hate to have been defined by my tastes and interests when I was 14. You'd have a world of nothing but comic book artists, pro-wrestlers, and pop stars. The idea that you can turn high school into a vocational school because everyone fits into neat little categories is flawed and laughable. How many people who actually pay for college, pick the major that they think suits them, and graduate actually work in that field or anything related to it when they finish? 50% 25% ? Now we're going to take that flawed model and push it on 14 year olds entering high school. Umm, ok.

I'm also curious how this vocational model would even work in a modern economy. Force some kids to learn Java so they enter a marketplace which has moved onto C# and won't even look at them because they don't have the general CS background a college graduate would have? And on top of it, they wouldn't be able to place into a halfway decent college because all the "uninteresting" liberal-arts education they should have had in HS was tossed out because of this new vocational model.
posted by skallas at 12:23 PM on January 14, 2006


skallas, it wouldn't/doesn't work, because, at the very least, it pigeonholes kids. Which is reflective of more general notions of social mobility (lack thereof) in Europe.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:29 PM on January 14, 2006


1/2 OT: This is why, when Americans who dream of Europe finally live there, they discover that a lot of what they assumed was universal in Western countries is actually specific to the United States. And why they return with an enhanced appreciation of their own country.
/1/2 OT
posted by ParisParamus at 12:35 PM on January 14, 2006


I was fully prepared to take Paris apart for the dig that teachers are paid too much -- and still think that unless there's some subtle qualifitcation here, he's very wrong about that -- but I agree with this:

Still, I have grave concerns about teaching in the US. I think it values the wrong things in teachers--those who can tolerate bureaucracies.

I don't believe that smart people, people who are naturally gifted teachers, enjoy bureaucracies. Less bureaucracy, and smarter, more talented people will gravitate towards teaching.


I quit after student teaching in large part because I knew I would not have a chance to run a classroom the way I'd want to do it, not for years, if ever. The senior faculty members shaped the way the junior faculty members taught, and the senior members followed the state curriculum and textbooks, and a few weeks into it I was thinking "*I'm* not interested in Math as it's being taught, and I like it. How can I expect the students to be?" And not only that, there were all kinds of problems that the roll-on-cover-it-all model simply wasn't addressing. Over half of my students, even some of the smart ones, had such an aversion to story problems that I wanted to stop and spend a month on it and actually try to explore what worked, since nothing I was teaching them was going to be useful without that skill. No real latitude for that seemed to exist.

I mean is that it should become fairly easy to teach high school as an adjunct, i.e., a non-permanent gig, possibly done along side another job in the "real world." I just experienced so few teachers that impressed me, inspired me, or left any impression at all that this would seem to be the route to follow. i'm talking about high school;

I also felt a dishonesty in my advocacy for the subject. I understand that a student asking "When am I gonna use this?" isn't always asking an honest question, and is really saying they don't see the point of learning something, and I know that if nothing else, Math can be a great mental exercise. But on a practical level, I knew that any answer was wrong-ish because *I* had only rarely put math skills beyond basic algebra or geometry to work solving practical problems, and as I said above, we weren't teaching even really teaching these kids how to do that. Just lots of tours through the mathematical menagerie.

I'm not sure these are failings tied to the nature of public schooling, though. Any system that values ability to perform on standardized tests or checklist curriculum might develop it. Any system that doesn't give teachers time, resources, and social cache to personally advance in their subject (and maybe even advance their subject) might develop it. And you can find these failings even at private institutions. Or find them avoided at public ones -- my public education had some of the flaws I've mentiond, but by and large it was excellent. I respect many of my teachers and recognize how they helped me develop.

So my conclusion: this is yet again one of those situations where there's no easy solution. Charter and private schools probably may have the virtue of no institutional legacy and therefore lighter initial bureaucracy, but as they develop, they're likely to acquire their own. The question will always come back to how you make sure that any type of educational organization maintains good pedagogical values, and I don't think there's a silver bullet for it.
posted by weston at 12:52 PM on January 14, 2006


They are not mssing out by not knowing Yeats any more than someone is missing out by not knowing how a Fresnel lens works

Eheh my dear you're SO WRONG . They are both missing out because increased understanding and knowledge just can't damage anybody, while lack of understanding and knowledge will always be damaging.

Obviously nobody can use infinite amount of time and there are significant time constraint to what one can learn in a lifetime or during a part of their life ; therfore some kind of selection of knowledge is needed and the student should pick according to his/her inclination.

YET exposure is needed : among the many engineer friends of mine (and I'm not an engineer) many admire my basic understanding of formal logic and some of my limited skills at arguing my points and defending them against rudimental attacks..some of them even went as far as to compliment me for them, recognized that he could have used them a lot more often then his encyclopedic knowledge of everything thermodynamics related.

But he wasn't exposed, nobody proposed so he took what he liked and was sufficiently well proposed and explained to him.
posted by elpapacito at 12:56 PM on January 14, 2006


Can some non-USians comment on the anti-intellectualism question? I thought it wasn't so hard to find e.g. French farming areas wth rampant anti-intellectualism.
posted by Aknaton at 12:59 PM on January 14, 2006


This is an impressive thread. My two cents, as a former private school English, History, Creative Writing, and Social Studies teacher (notice a problem right there?):

It's the parents, stupid. American parents have, for the most part, decided that parenting is something beneath them and that their tax dollars should cover it. Unfortunately, as others have said above, teachers and teacher unions saw this general trend as an opportunity to empower themselves further, and they ended up losing sight of their purpose--to teach, not to parent and "inspire." Bullshit. Teach because you love your subject, be it math or home ec. The touchy-feely stuff might follow if you do your job well, but it can't replace basic knowledge and interest in a core subject.

Also, mediocre teachers are just as common as mediocre co-workers in any office or organization structure. They stand out like sore thumbs because teaching is an essentially public act--there's no computer to hide behind, and kids are smarter than people give them credit for. Their BS detectors are generally pretty good.

There's a reason many of the best teachers opt for private schools, and consciously make much less money and have shittier benefits--public school admins are morons, and the whole institution of educational academia is a complete crock (as QuietDesperation notes). (PS, if you want a PhD, go for Divinity School or Education. YMMV, but Ed school professors are easily the dumbest members of academia, and that's saying a lot. Actually, they're worse than dumb--they consciously work to muddy and obfuscate an essentially basic act in order to advance their own made-up institution/departments/philosophies. Next time you meet a teacher, ask them if they got anything out of ed school--9/10 times, they'll be honest and tell you it's simplistic drivel with no real world application).

Meh. The whole thing is really depressing. I really admire and respect good teachers--it'd be nice if they were looked up to in America the way cops and firefighters are post 9/11. In a less direct fashion, they really do save lives.
posted by bardic at 1:36 PM on January 14, 2006


Captain_Tenille: If you want to send your child to private school, fine. I don't care if you want to make sure they don't get exposed to any "ideas".

I agree with you on vouchers, dude, but every single person I know who went to private school went because they wanted a *better* education and *more* ideas. There are some private schools that are about sheltering kids, but a large number are not, and to think that isn't the case is totally ignorant.

Now, you can argue about whether the average private education is better than the average public education (I think it is, mostly because private schools tend to have smaller classes and a better caliber of student), but you're not even there if you choose to fundamentally minsunderstand the lure of private schools.

Also, I attended public schools for grades three to seven and private for the rest, and I gotta say, all public school taught me was to shut up and sit down; even that didn't really take.
posted by dame at 1:37 PM on January 14, 2006


This what Stossel, Conservatives, and Libertarians are unable to admit. There is simply something seriously wrong with American culture.

Don't know about Stossel, but surely Conservatives and Libertarians not only admit, but scream from the rooftops that there is something seriously wrong with American culture?

At least, the ones I know do.

By the way, does anyone know which countries ranked 1,2 and 3? My darling daughter should be ready for real schooling in a few years and I want to plan ahead.... (And what school in NJ got to be publically humiliated?)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2006


"(Stossel also implied that breaking up the phone monopoloy gave rise to cell phones --

Which is funny considering that cell phones in the US are years behind cell phones in Europe."

I fail to see how he is illogical on this one. Cell phones are ahead in Europe because traditional telephony in the US was always better; thus less of a demand for something new/better.

Stossel is a bit of a hack, I'll admit, but some of his ideas are spot-on.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:46 PM on January 14, 2006


Skallas:
Also, who determines these specialized roles? At what age do we say, "Oh ok, you're an engineer, get used to it." At 12? 10? Before? I believe that was the Soviet system and it didn't work out so well. Do you think 14 year olds are wise enough in the ways of the world to pick a career and work at it?

No, my theory is more like there are four or five different curriculums that teach you the general things you need to know. Some have a more science and technology focus, some have a more humanities focus, some have a more fine arts focus, some are more vocational. Students choose the type of education that they're most interested in. If they change their mind later in life that's fine; they'll still benefit from having had an education that they found more engaging at the time.

Yeah let's not use the flawed model of the University because we have a superior model in our public schools. I'd rather have a flawed model than a failed model.

And the vocational model is primarily for students that aren't college bound. In other words the majority of American students. If they learn java and the world moves on to C# they are in a better position to adapt than if they read Medea and the world moves on to C#. In this liberal art's model of highschool we prepare every student to go to college when only 30% do. This high minded egalitarianism is really doing a disservice to most people.
posted by I Foody at 1:51 PM on January 14, 2006


Aknaton: "Can some non-USians comment on the anti-intellectualism question? I thought it wasn't so hard to find e.g. French farming areas wth rampant anti-intellectualism."


Here in Germany a thorough respect for intellectual individuals is prevalent. This study by the VDE (Verband der Elektrotechnik Elektronik Informationstechnik e.V.) (sorry, pdf, German) has a ranking for the reputation of several occupations; currently the ranking is:

1. doctor
2. teacher
3. architect
4. lawyer
5. engineer / electrical engineer
6. policeman
7. biologist / chemist
8. priest / clergyman
9. businessman
10. artist

That's the only survey I could find immediately; if I recall correctly, the top 2 positions used to be alternating in other polls between "doctor" and "professor". So, at least over here, intellectuals are usually very high ranking individuals whose opinion is considered valuable and whose advice is sought.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:55 PM on January 14, 2006


me: They are not missing out by not knowing Yeats any more than someone is missing out by not knowing how a Fresnel lens works

elpapacito: Eheh my dear you're SO WRONG . They are both missing out because increased understanding and knowledge just can't damage anybody, while lack of understanding and knowledge will always be damaging.


I'm so not wrong. I agree that they are both missing out, but who's missing out more? If had had phrased in positve terms, "someone is missing out by not knowing how a Fresnel lens works as much as they are missing out by not knowing Yeats." would there still have been an objection? The point I'm making is the same.
posted by I Foody at 2:06 PM on January 14, 2006


Don't know about Stossel, but surely Conservatives and Libertarians not only admit, but scream from the rooftops that there is something seriously wrong with American culture?

But a conservative is likely to say that the problem with American culture is those newfangled city-folk ways with their music and big pants and not respecting their parents and the pointy-headed liberals luring our kids away from a Leave-It-To-Beaver world.

People here are saying that the problem is the captain of the baseball team giving a noogy to a nerd and the football coach teaching a social-studies class and other traditionally-minded people or traditional institutions that conservatives like.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:46 PM on January 14, 2006


And the vocational model is primarily for students that aren't college bound. In other words the majority of American students.

How is this determined? How can you determine which track is right for which student? If someone asked me when I was 10 whether I wanted to go to school for 4+ more years, I would have said hell no. Likewise, I know a lot of kids who assumed freshman year of high school that they were going to graduate and go directly into the work force who are now in their sophomore year in college.

Students choose the type of education that they're most interested in. If they change their mind later in life that's fine; they'll still benefit from having had an education that they found more engaging at the time.

But if I decide that I want to go into creative writing my senior year, after several years of mechanics classes, what's my option?
posted by 235w103 at 2:55 PM on January 14, 2006


I was a school teacher (now a prof.), and come from a family of teachers, and while teaching did in fact have many frustrating experiences with parents. I agree with the sentiment that it's a big problem that (seemingly) most parents don't understand that they, not schools, are their children's primary teachers. Abdicating fundamental responsibility for a child's learning undercuts any efforts any teacher makes during the school day.

BUT--I don't think that this is the biggest problem. I went to school ready and eager to learn as a young person, with parents who completely supported my teachers, and worked on my homework with me whenever I needed, etc., and I still hated school, pretty much all the way from first grade through high school graduation.

My most vivid memory of primary school? Being so completely excited on the first day of first grade (real school! real learning!) to get my reading book....and being completely devastated when I got it, and realized I could already read the whole thing, no problem. I distinctly remember thinking "is this it?" And that thought pretty much sums up the next 12 years of schooling.

To my perception, it's the factory-model (expounded at length by Gatto and others) that is the most basic part of this problem. Our schools are actually doing what they're meant to do quite well: educate the majority of the population to a basic level of literacy; indoctrinate passivity to authority; inure us to tolerate repetitive tasks (once for factory work, now for cubicle work); etc.

American schools are NOT designed to do what most of us think of as "learn": they are not set up to inspire curiosity and passion, they are not designed to encourage and develop independence in thought or action. And they really are not broken. They're doing exactly what they were designed to. It's just the world that's changed around them.

(FWIW: I was able to be sort of happy as a teacher because I taught instrumental music, so I had the same students over several years, and was able to set the curriculum myself, thus bypassing all of the worst of the bureaucracy.)
posted by LooseFilter at 3:34 PM on January 14, 2006


In New York City, it's "just about impossible" to fire a bad teacher, says schools chancellor Joel Klein.

Can I say "educational economic liberalism filter"??
What a poor argument! Make somebody feel like he will get shitcanned any minute so that he will produce.

High schools are not Wal-Mart.... or are they??

High school teaching is already a job where people are devalued and humiliated on many different levels (no respect from kids, parents who think their kids are brilliant and couldn't possibly get a bad grade, school board members who are not educators -- usually the local dentist with political clout)

What the author has no idea about is that in many European countries, the teachers are EXTREMELY PROTECTED. He is basically proving his ignorance in demonstrating that he can't look past his own nose and agenda.

Also, most European schools are structured so that the teachers do not answer to a principal and local committee who both hires and inspects them. The system is national. Teachers are placed in a national context. The "principal" is there to manage the school and the teachers are inspected by external experts in their teaching domain. In a way, teachers become free actors as they meet the standard once to get their foot in the door. The trick is, the standard is HIGH.

But maybe Stossel is trying to provide a blaring example of how poor his own education is.

I would argue that poor conditions for our nation's teachers are the number one reason for the less than honorable showing by our students against those from other countries.

Example :
My wife is a high school philosophy teacher in the French national education system. She had to pass a national standards test (CAPES) that is very selective just to be a teacher. Some teachers go on to the level of agregation as she has.

She came to the US with me and put her job on hold, as she has a right to do because of my professional situation and the fact that SHE HAS A JOB FOR LIFE to which she can always return.

Why a job for life? Because she met the standand and the places don't come cheap. She is a govenment employee with real benefits. This doesn't mean she can take time off anytime she would like. Nor can she take as much time as she wants outside of reasonable limits. She does have to put i 40 years for full retirement. (so much for retiring at 55)

Within two months she has been hired on here as an adjunct professor at a major university. Although she could try to climb the ladder and become a full university professor one day in the US, the advantages of being a teacher in the French high school system are too good to give up, Therefore, she will likely return.

(I do have a point though)

Her instructions here : to give high grades -- as many professors are instructed to do -- with a nice pat on the back saying "you did a good job" (after all, many departments have to fight to keep what little funds they have flowing. Bad grades don't attract students. NO STUDENTS = NO DEPARTMENT. The beauty of an educational free market.)

My point is that instead of putting teachers in the arena and letting out the beasts it would be more in the national interest to try and create real, coherent national standards for hiring teachers and higher standards for what we expect of our students.


But hey, at least we feel good about ourselves.
posted by pwedza at 3:53 PM on January 14, 2006


How did Stossel do on the test? If doing poorly on it means one is "stupid" then the public has a right to know whether Stossel is stupider than the "stupid" children of New Jersey. Otherwise he's simply hiding the truth, which is exactly what liars do.
posted by raaka at 4:11 PM on January 14, 2006


Here is an interesting article on another aspect of the US education system - No Child's Behind Left: The Test.

As for the discussion...

caddis: For instance, in Belgium secondary education is divided, with only a portion of the students on a college bound track, the rest in technical, arts, or basic education.

You have to be very careful about this kind of system. Public schools aren't that good at figuring out who belongs where. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I think that it would be worthwhile for society to give every citizen a generalist education for as many years as possible. That would include practical and physical education as well as book learnin'...

LooseFilter: My most vivid memory of primary school? Being so completely excited on the first day of first grade (real school! real learning!) to get my reading book....and being completely devastated when I got it, and realized I could already read the whole thing, no problem. I distinctly remember thinking "is this it?" And that thought pretty much sums up the next 12 years of schooling.

To a certain extent that is the nature of education... There are only three states - too easy, challenging, overwhelming. Keeping it as close to challenging as possible for the greatest number of students possible is a fundamental problem.

Heh, I guess if that is the theory, corollary 1 is: Convincing kids that things which seem overwhelming at first glance are actually worth sticking with for a while is a key to effective teaching.
posted by Chuckles at 4:15 PM on January 14, 2006


If we're looking for a simple solution, a magic pill, there isn't any. I think its a bit of anti-intellectualism, a culture that is generally hostile towards teachers, a lack of clear universal standards, large classrooms, and a misallocation of resources. Sure, lets find all the good teachers. Would we pay them? Do people who may be good teachers know they would make good teachers?

I do tink that some decentralization would be interesting - but there would still need to be some kind of criteria for knowledge and teaching. But more important, I bet we'd get more teachers if we gave them more freedom and reduced the authority of principals.

What upsets me about Stossel is that it looks like an anti-union piece, where I think the people that should be limited are the politicians who make schools into a convenient football. All they need to do is make sure that there are resources for teachers to do their job, and remind parents that it cost money.

Then there is the elephant in the room - we don't like the idea of funding education for poor people. And the wealthy get worried when they are in classes with smart poor people. Then they don't get the privilege of their class.
posted by john wilkins at 4:22 PM on January 14, 2006


How do you determine which track a student should be on in a multiple curiculum system? The parents and children decide together. They would likely error on the side of ambition.

But if I decide that I want to go into creative writing my senior year, after several years of mechanics classes, what's my option?


See this is some what's not perfect is bad shit right here. Most secondary schools currently offer neither significant creative writing nor mechanics classes so having the oppurtunity to do either at all makes it better than the current system. I guess if someone wanted to they could it might be harder.

Public schools aren't that good at figuring out who belongs where.

People tend to be ok at figuring out what they want to be doing. They would decide.
I'm not sure what the answer is, but I think that it would be worthwhile for society to give every citizen a generalist education for as many years as possible.
I'm not so sure about this. I my self am very much a generalist and would deny noone the oppurtunity to pursue a variety of interests but I see no universal advantage to having a broad range of knowledge v. a focused area of knowledge. I'm just willing to give people more leeway over what they learn in public schools so long as they accomplish the criteria of satisfactory literacy, numeracy, and general knowledge. If you asked enough people what everyone should know you would get a list of things so comprehensive that no one satisfied it. We live in an imperfect world so we have to settle for a flawed better instead of an impossible ideal.
posted by I Foody at 5:30 PM on January 14, 2006


Metafilter: The grotesque result of Veronica breeding with Moose.
posted by dr_dank at 7:15 PM on January 14, 2006


I had my cock cleaned by a Belgian student once. Ah, sweet memories.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:28 PM on January 14, 2006


I share many of the same frustrations that Stossel voices.

But he's looking at students as utils who will be efficiently trained to do specific tasks. This is not the way our education system is set up. To really be able to measure the effectiveness of our schools, you have to break kids up at an early age and send them down distinctive paths. For instance, those who show promise in mathematics go to special math schools. Those who show promise in art, go to art schools.

Then and only then, would you be able to truly measure results of our efforts. But is that what we want? I don't know if I want my kid's career to be decided by the time s/he is 10 years old, and I don't think many of us do either.

If I had to rank the problems of our school system, I'd do:

1) Parents who think they don't have to take the lead in their kids education.

2) Lousy teachers. It hurts to say, but yeah, there's lots of lousy teachers.

3) Teachers unions, which only make it more difficult to get rid of the lousy teachers.

4) Mainstream culture. I guess this goes back to the parents again, but lots of kids just go home from school and watch MTV. I knew even from a young age that music videos only make you dumber, so I turned them off. Unfortunately the same can't be said for many of my peers, and even less of today's kids.
posted by b_thinky at 7:45 PM on January 14, 2006


dame: The private schools around here, at least, seem to mostly be weird Protestant schools for those who don't want their kids to hear about sex or evolution. While I love my daughter too much to send her to private school, I'd rather send her to a Waldorf or Catholic private school than some Protestant private school like the majority of private schools I've noticed in the Olympia, WA area.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 8:52 PM on January 14, 2006


That's just astounding right-wing propaganda.

The hook is that Belgian kids test better than American kids. The postulated explanation for this?? Blame public education and the teachers' unions??? Really now: WTF?

As if Belgian doesn't have a) public education and b) public-sector unions? This tool Stossel has hit on the points where American schools are most SIMILAR to Belgium in order to explain the differences in their outcomes?
Stossel says that in order to get more results more like Belgium, we need to break the unions and hand the kids over to nutbar fundies for their education.

Wow. This is just unbelievable. Where do we even begin to push back against this sort of control of the agenda?
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:31 PM on January 14, 2006


I spent my first two years of high school in Belgium, and the last two years at a public high school in Pennsylvania.

I attended SHAPE American High School, at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, located near Mons, though many of my classes were in the International School, and taught by Belgian civilians formerly from the Belgian educational system. Carlisle High School was your average public school.

It wasn't a public Belgian school, so this may not count for too much, but my Belgian teachers were much tougher, much harder, less inclined to put up with any bullshit from us, and expected a great deal. Of course at age 13, I hated this, but I actually learned a lot, and coming back to the states and going to public high school, I recall being pretty surprised at how much of a cakewalk a lot of my classes were in comparison.

/my $0.02
posted by Meredith at 9:32 PM on January 14, 2006


LooseFilter "To my perception, it's the factory-model (expounded at length by Gatto and others) that is the most basic part of this problem. Our schools are actually doing what they're meant to do quite well: educate the majority of the population to a basic level of literacy; indoctrinate passivity to authority; inure us to tolerate repetitive tasks (once for factory work, now for cubicle work); etc.

American schools are NOT designed to do what most of us think of as "learn": they are not set up to inspire curiosity and passion, they are not designed to encourage and develop independence in thought or action. And they really are not broken. They're doing exactly what they were designed to.


This is so spot on to what i was thinking. The general purpose of schooling in america and the manner in which the system operates is to produce good little cogs for the machine who will do as their told and be satisfied. Education in America has become on the outs with mainstream consumer culture over the last few decades because we're now told day in and day out how special we are, and how we need to prove that to ourselves and others through our purchasing power. So now everyone wants to be a snowflake but the entire education system is pushing them towards conformity.

I'm supervised no one has linked to this yet (or something similar) the Sudbury School has a very interesting approach to actual LEARNING. I know i wish i had gone there and I know for a fact i would have got a lot more out of my time investment there than the hours i spent wasted in classes "learning" things i already knew or had zero interest in. Their model also addresses the issues of more "specialized" programs because it lets students change fluidly through specifications that will keep them interested and motivated.
posted by teishu at 10:54 PM on January 14, 2006


yeah. i blame american culture. especially the way it touches adolescence. wanna talk about cognitive dissonance. i have theory that puberty works just fine without culture to fuck it up. anyway...
my two cents = the public school system makes pizzas with the dough its given...
posted by es_de_bah at 11:22 PM on January 14, 2006


Meredith: Are you sure that's not just a difference between DoD schools and regular public schools? I left DoD schools right about middle school, so that could be the difference right there, but there was surely a world of difference between DoD schools at Hahn and Kaiserslautern and public schools in Brandon FL.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:23 PM on January 14, 2006


Here in Spain there is a mixed system, public schools and state-subsidized private schools. The quality varies by region, but one problem has been detected is that in the majority of subsidized "private" schools where supposedly anybody can attend (as in Belgium), there is less than 1% enrollment by immigrants and people of color, something like a factor of 10 less than in regular public schools. Coincidence? Doubtful. Racist? Probably.

In general the Spanish system sucks as Spanish students were dead last in the EU, before the recent enlargement with Eastern European nations.


When I am a parent--not yet--
posted by ParisParamus at 9:03 AM PST on January 14 [!]


Oh God, please don't ever have children!


Oh right, I was the only one who thought this while reading that comment
posted by sic at 1:40 AM on January 15, 2006


If you want statistics, the OECD each year publishes the "Education at a Glance" report comparing data from member or partner countries. See table D3 for teachers salaries. There's a lot of variation there even within Europe obviously (in part related also to the local differences in cost of living), but the US doesn't seem to do that bad in terms of pay.
posted by funambulist at 5:28 AM on January 15, 2006


I grew up and was educated in the Netherlands. After elementary (age 6-12) I was able to go to the college-oriented high school (12-18), although I could have chosen to go to either of the two "lower levels" (the lowest level being a 4 year vocational school, I think).

In any case, I didn't go to university (I could have gone, for free, natch, because of my grade levels). And I know more than most college "educated" people I know over here.

It seems to me that standards were higher. No fakery with prepping kids for tests or the like, just higher standards, and not everybody passed (I got left behind twice during the peak of my pot-smoking, class cutting years). Not everybody gets to go to the college prep level high school, and not everybody gets to go to university. At least, not for free.

But this is in a larger context of a more socialized society (less poverty, much smaller gap between richest and poorest, good unemployment, health, social security benefits for all; OTOH more unionisation, much less social/economical mobility than in the US) and a much more intellectual culture. People read newspapers and watched pbs-style and bbc programming.

I'd spend summer vacations in the States, and was always fascinated by the TV: so many channels! 24 hours a day! (We had two nationally funded channels and some BBC, german, french channels; later we got one or two "satellite" channels). I couldn't get over, still can't, network news programs with their star name anchors and flashy graphics and completely bloody irrelevant stories about car accidents and fluffy kittens getting rescued out of trees. And somehow, to me, this seems like a big sign of what's different.

The commenters who pointed out 1) the anti-intellectual/money- and consumer-driven stance of US culture and 2) the entitlement idea (everybody passes; introduce standard tests and we'll game them; everybody goes to college, etc.) make, I think, the most relevant points.

I can't tell you how many times I've thought "you went to college? But you're an ignorant fool!"

I think you cut pit Dutch, and probably Belgian and German, college-aimed-highschool graduates against any randomly chosen group of US college graduates and come out ahead. And any 12-year old against a certain well-known less than stellar Yale graduate, which should tell you right there that money and connections remain our gold standard.
posted by cps at 6:21 AM on January 15, 2006


Cps, I don't disagree with you about the average high school student being inferior to the Average American one. So why is it that US power is still ascendant, whereas European power is trending downward?
posted by ParisParamus at 6:24 AM on January 15, 2006


ParisParamus: you went to college! But you can't even read!
posted by cps at 6:30 AM on January 15, 2006


PP, I would argue that US power is no longer ascendant or, if it is, is ascending on pure momentum, which cannot last.
posted by brundlefly at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2006


brundlefly, I don't think there's any evidence for that, but in any case, Europe is still losing relative to the US, or isn't "catching up." Moreover, the same "Americans are idiots" complaint has been made for at least a century.

My knowledge of European education systems starts and ends with France. Assuming France is typical, I can only see Europe falling further and further behind.

And CPS, I have two post-college degrees from respected universities. So, quit being a dick.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:46 AM on January 15, 2006



But a conservative is likely to say that the problem with American culture is those newfangled city-folk ways with their music and big pants and not respecting their parents and the pointy-headed liberals luring our kids away from a Leave-It-To-Beaver world.

People here are saying that the problem is the captain of the baseball team giving a noogy to a nerd and the football coach teaching a social-studies class and other traditionally-minded people or traditional institutions that conservatives like.


Thank you, ROU_xenophobe. All I can say is, up toa point and not in my experience. Conservatives and Libertarians I know, either personally or through their writings, want to bring back Latin, demand athletes have a respectable GPA and common courtesy, and would probably hurl if they had to watch Leave It To Beaver. As to childish pants and music- could be, though again, many I know would just role their eyes.

(Interested to see the reference to DC's Woodrow Wilson as one of the best schools in the country. When it first became the target of intercity bussing back in the day, liberal parents of my acquaintance immediately pulled their children out and sent them to Sidwell Friends.)
posted by IndigoJones at 9:47 AM on January 15, 2006


PP I fail to see how he is illogical on this one. Cell phones are ahead in Europe because traditional telephony in the US was always better; thus less of a demand for something new/better.

Correlation is not causation. Freeway system has always been good in U.S. so why all these airplanes ?

cps :I can't tell you how many times I've thought "you went to college? But you're an ignorant fool!"

Let em say :D By definition "ignorant" is one person that doesn't know. If you don't know just one thing and you know one bazillion more, you still are ignorant.

But maybe you'll find Socrates more interesting in Plato's Apology a much
better speaker on the subject of knowledge :)
posted by elpapacito at 10:00 AM on January 15, 2006


while teaching did in fact have many frustrating experiences with parents. I agree with the sentiment that it's a big problem that (seemingly) most parents don't understand that they, not schools, are their children's primary teachers. Abdicating fundamental responsibility for a child's learning undercuts any efforts any teacher makes during the school day.

lots of peeps here piling on the parents. now, as a teacher of kids with behavior problems, i encountered more than my fair share of outrageously non-involved, insane parents. (an unusual population, of course.) teachers' frustration makes some sense. however, you have to take into consideration, again, USian consumerist culture. remember what the american dream was in the 50s? see what it is now? the massive gigantism (huge houses, manicured tended yards, huge vehicles, toys) that has taken over our culture as Necessity drives everything. and parents have to work more and more hours to make that reality. and so, schools (and sports coaches) become babysitters because parents have to work insanely long hours to maintain that Lifestyle. the poorer you are, the more hours it would seem you have to work to get that little bit further up the ladder.

so is it the parents' "fault"? sure, but let's not forget the overall culture that makes this sort of behavior the norm. parents are uninvolved (except for demanding letter-grades from teachers) by cultural mandate.

I don't think that this is the biggest problem. I went to school ready and eager to learn as a young person, with parents who completely supported my teachers, and worked on my homework with me whenever I needed, etc., and I still hated school, pretty much all the way from first grade through high school graduation.

exactly. school sucks. everyone knows it. but everyone either seems to think that tinkering within a faulty model will make it better. or they somehow reason that because it's "normal" to hate school, that somehow it's perfectly reasonable to make their children endure it as they have. the most common conversation i have about homeschooling with people ends up being "we all had to go through it, and without doing so, kids won't know how to function in society." stunted people insisting that all our offspring must be stunted as well.

American schools are NOT designed to do what most of us think of as "learn": they are not set up to inspire curiosity and passion, they are not designed to encourage and develop independence in thought or action. And they really are not broken. They're doing exactly what they were designed to. It's just the world that's changed around them.

precisely. i believe firmly (from the perspective of someone who researches the new technology and education worldwide for about four hours each day) that learners as consumers = the reality of the future. (i might hate it, but there's not much i can do to fight it except wail and gnash my teeth.) we're already beginning to see teachers as "learning managers" rather than information providers. the movement is to create as many alternatives as consumers can want.

as an educator, i loathe testing as the killer of all i loved about teaching. and i instinctively have come to the conclusion that forcing a kid to learn something only drags the rest of the class into a black hole of drudgery. (shakespeare's cultural value ought not be predicated on force-feeding him to unwilling students.)

so, in some ways, the inevitable consumer model could free lifelong learners from the age-segregated, bricks&mortar dependent, factory-learning model. and i suspect that the learning won't necessarily be any worse, because i don't think it could be much worse. the goal should be to free learners to learn what they want and in what way they do best, unrestricted by time and space. it is then up to the universities and the employers to evaluate the applicant's skills based on a more diverse system of accreditation and performance evaluation.
posted by RedEmma at 10:12 AM on January 15, 2006


"Correlation is not causation. Freeway system has always been good in U.S. so why all these airplanes ?"

There's relatively little cross-elasticity between autos and planes; the adoption of one doesn't reduce demand for the other.

On the other hand, cell phones compete with classic telephony. The European telephone monopolies were long characterized by high tariffs and, I believe poor customer service. Thus when the technology for cell phones matured, they were more attractive to Europeans than to Americans.

I would suspect that across Europe, the first cell phones were also introduced by those state monopolies; yeah, monopolies can decide to take risks like that first. So?

Are GSM phones still much more advanced than the ones over here? I'm not really familiar. I don't have a picture phone, and don't want one...whatever.

Look that's a minor point. I think both American and European schools have their weak and strong points. I'd still rather be arbitrarily assigned to an American school than a European one, but not so much for the school itself, but for the economy that awaited me at graduation.

Americans, on average, are embarrassing, but the US still fosters the prodigy, even the above-average mind better: that's the tradeoff as you go from free-market to greater and greater degrees of socialism.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:44 AM on January 15, 2006


redemma:

that learners as consumers = the reality of the future

Only in the choice moment to please them with the idea that they have a wide(r) choice. It's evident that, for instance, if you want to attend Calculus 101 you first need some understanding of Algebra..so you can't just buy Calculus 101 as if it was a product, because you will simply not be able to understand it.

Certainly one can make courses out of anything, slap a name on it and then sell it as "Caviar" and that would be immensely dangerous and destructive..State oversight comes to mind..the dreaded "regulation" would be less then ideally optimal, yet a lot better then Far West Market.

So my concern is not much in giving people the pleasure of choosing according to fine details of their inclinations, rather I fear they could start to choose ignorance OR waste significant amount of time among many courses because nobody is tutoring them.

Also, at least in Italian college, we're witnessing the decrease of quantity of studying that students are begin asked to achieve. That generated a silent outcry as the renovation was sold as an improvement better reflecting the need of the market.

Bottom line: less prepared, worse students. Market now turned over and demands quality, is willing to pay for quality. We had A LOT of quality, yet it wasn't quality cheap enough for the market at the time ; obviously unreasonable expectation of people instantly becoming skilled isn't met , market suffers and companies go cry to State to reduce taxation ! Why do people hate markets so much ? It's FREEDOM they hate ? Are they communists ?

FUCK that..market economy ? That's schizofrenic leeching.
posted by elpapacito at 11:08 AM on January 15, 2006


There's relatively little cross-elasticity between autos and planes; the adoption of one doesn't reduce demand for the other.

Ahaha good call, cross elasticity :) Being a Phd in economy I love this mumbo-jumbo :D Well you're reasoning on the assumption there's a finite demand for telephone calls and that's obviously correct, but you overlooked the fact that you didn't constantly
have a fixed-line telephone with you. So while cellphones may have absorbed some of demand covered by fixed lines, they also
literally created new demand that fixed lines most probably would never have solicited. Think about it :) do most people call
more or less since the advent of cellphones ? Maybe because they're now used to phonecall more ?

I would suspect that across Europe, the first cell phones were also introduced by those state monopolies

In Italy it was indeed introduced by state monopolist. I guess that they were risk averse as much as anybody else, but saw
potential in opening a new lucrative market.

Are GSM phones still much more advanced than the ones over here? I'm not really familiar.

GSM are still extremely popular and marketers were succesful in creating demands that doesn't have much sense but cost good money. Horray for free market ! We're transitioning to UMTS , promise of videophone for the masses is a reality, but the cost of videophonecall remains too high and the demand not really that high. Nobody wants to be seen not doing what one pretends ;)

US still fosters the prodigy, even the above-average mind better: that's the tradeoff as you go from free-market to greater and greater degrees of socialism.

We're going toward socialism and nobody notified me ?! Actually I tought having better prepared masses would reduce the average cost of highly skilled worker.
posted by elpapacito at 11:28 AM on January 15, 2006


PP: "Americans, on average, are embarrassing, but the US still fosters the prodigy, even the above-average mind better"

if this is the case then things must be really bad everywhere else. the US education system prizes mediocrity and conformity over everything else. look at how many school are cutting out their "gifted" programs at the lower levels and the fact that to get into AP level classes and the "gifted" track in high school all it takes is a phone call from an angry parent (which at my high school was how a large portion of the students in such classes got in). There is no reasonable minimum standard applied to being in any high level class and the teachers are forced to dumb down everything they do to not lose the large portion of students who can't keep up.

Being a prodigy is a detriment in school. Most teachers are forced by administrators to teach to tests, and students who want to think creatively are usually discouraged and pushed back inside the box. This leads to students who become apathetic about school in general because it becomes an exercise in tedium and a huge waste of time. Though this is exactly what they want since schools are training people to be well behaved worker drones, not creative intellectuals.

American education is based on the lowest common denominator and the desire to push everyone towards "average" be it up or down.
posted by teishu at 12:13 PM on January 15, 2006


Telshu, cutting out AP programs may be..um...dumb..but it will not make gifted kids any left gifted.

I guess it depends how you view outlets for smart kids. I suspect, on average, that in the US, parents will have more money to pay for a special private school than they will in Belgium. And even those most critical of American schools will concede that we have the best universities in the world (populated by Americans, as well as foreigners). So we're obviously doing something right (not that there isn't room for improvement).

By beef with Europe is that it promotes a more conformist culture than in the States. And we all know (or, at least I think we do) that the smartest people are, by definition, not conformists.

And way, a very interesting topic.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:53 PM on January 15, 2006


And even those most critical of American schools will concede that we have the best universities in the world (populated by Americans, as well as foreigners).

No, no you don't. You have some very good universities, and a great deal of good research being conducted at them, and possibly the richest universities, but not the best. There are no best universities. The best universities for my subject are in the UK. For other subjects, the best universities may be in Europe, Asia, South America or Africa. And frankly, I think that bang for buck, I've seen better efficiency outside of the US.

I do speak from experience - I've been a student at a Canadian university, a TA at a very good American university and right now I am visiting a British university (where my husband has been a student and a tutor). The latter two are world-famous universities, but I think the best overall undergraduate teaching/support was at my little-known Canadian uni.
posted by jb at 5:30 PM on January 15, 2006


American kids aren't stupid. They're fat and stupid.
posted by telstar at 6:11 PM on January 15, 2006


Stossel belongs at Fox "News."
posted by phewbertie at 6:15 AM on January 16, 2006


... learners as consumers = the reality of the future. (i might hate it, but there's not much i can do to fight it except wail and gnash my teeth.) we're already beginning to see teachers as "learning managers" rather than information providers. the movement is to create as many alternatives as consumers can want. ... so, in some ways, the inevitable consumer model could free lifelong learners from the age-segregated, bricks&mortar dependent, factory-learning model.

But that isn't the real consumer-centric problem here, I don't think. If it were just a question of having many options and choosing one's own path, and all that, I'd be pretty much okay with that - I mean, there are questions about how well young people/their parents can make those choices, and whether evyerone ought to have the same start regardless, etc - but put that aside for the moment.

The real problem is that what the consumers want is not the education but the diploma. Too many people want to get a college education to be able to put it on their resume and mention it in passing to people they meet, rather than in order to better understand history or science. In a consumer model, it's too easy for the customer to reach the conclusion that if he's paying, the teacher shouldn't be failing him - even if that's just a sort of inkling in the back of his mind, it can color the whole attitude toward the process, making the teacher not an authority, making plagiarism feel acceptable, making taking easier classes that will result in a more impressive GPA appealing, etc.
posted by mdn at 8:33 AM on January 16, 2006


Only in the choice moment to please them with the idea that they have a wide(r) choice. It's evident that, for instance, if you want to attend Calculus 101 you first need some understanding of Algebra..so you can't just buy Calculus 101 as if it was a product, because you will simply not be able to understand it.

well yes. that's obvious. i'm not saying it will necessarily be about a la carte education--more that there will be myriad ways that one can accumulate the classwork to demonstrate a given skill or a "certificate of achievement".

Certainly one can make courses out of anything, slap a name on it and then sell it as "Caviar" and that would be immensely dangerous and destructive..State oversight comes to mind..

there are already accreditation organizations and facilities that lie outside state oversight. employers and institutions will decide what is acceptible and what is not. sure, the state will probably set minimum standards. NCLB attempts it, and so does my home state, Minnesota. every teacher i've ever talked to says it's crap. as there are more choices, especially given the ubiquity of technology/access to the World Brain, there will be more ways to prove what you've done and what you've learned.

... I fear they could start to choose ignorance OR waste significant amount of time among many courses because nobody is tutoring them.

and this differs from the present how?

there will always be crap institutions, and good institutions. good learning objects and bad learning objects. the obvious answer to that is places where people can get non-influenced (by advertising and money) evaluation of those institutions, learning centers, and learning objects. there are more and more accreditation and non-profits who will style themselves toward this type of learning (lifelong, etc.).

The real problem is that what the consumers want is not the education but the diploma. Too many people want to get a college education to be able to put it on their resume and mention it in passing to people they meet, rather than in order to better understand history or science. In a consumer model, it's too easy for the customer to reach the conclusion that if he's paying, the teacher shouldn't be failing him - even if that's just a sort of inkling in the back of his mind, it can color the whole attitude toward the process, making the teacher not an authority, making plagiarism feel acceptable, making taking easier classes that will result in a more impressive GPA appealing, etc.

i'm not advocating the consumer model so much as realizing it's inevitable. there is absolutely nothing you or i can do to stop this movement. (except complain.) the reason is because at least in american culture, young people are being forced into the type of college education they don't want and don't need in order to get the job they want/see as necessity. we have made the college education necessary and therefore we are suffering from the mediocrity bred in the name of what US culture views as "success." (physical accoutrements all, not "knowledge.") when such a situation exists, the gatekeepers of those diplomas are obstacles to overcome, rather than the wise purveyors of Certificates of Knowledge. the only answer is to diversify the model again. allow those who want those Certificates of Knowledge to find ways to get them, and those who want their Cubicle Ticket to get theirs. certain institutions will (as they do now, in more limited form) gain reputations for a diploma that means a certain something. but outside that, institutions are realizing the potential for the online market. and "education consumers" are realizing that they can cobble an education together in new ways. at some point, there will be more non-bricks&mortar institutions and accreditation entities who will be able to look over your "portfolio" and evaluate you according to their unique criteria.

it has never really worked to force more high-minded subjects upon the masses. if they don't want to learn it, they won't. and if forced into it, they'll cheat and lie to get around it. that is the state of education today. i hardly think that making the piece of paper more difficult to achieve is the answer. it just forces the intellectuals to sit in classes where they're the minority, bored out of their skulls.

the problem people always have with democracy is they won't like other people's choices. letting people vote from a PC, get education in whatever way they choose--everyone let's their supposedly superior judgement get in the way. the point i'm making is that if you make Everything available, then you have to realize that some people are going to choose cheezits. i might think it's gross, but i'm afraid i still have no right to snatch their cheezits away and make them eat grapefruit.
posted by RedEmma at 11:14 AM on January 16, 2006


i'm not advocating the consumer model so much as realizing it's inevitable.

i realize that; I just thought your description of it didn't address the problem with it, which is defining 'education'.

i might think it's gross, but i'm afraid i still have no right to snatch their cheezits away and make them eat grapefruit.

it isn't a question of "snatching away" anything. It's just a question of recognizing that education is not a product you can just buy. You have to work for it - it is work you have to do, and a certificate is merely the statement of someone else testifying that you did, in fact, do the work. You can set up models whereby you earn testimonies of different things - we can have technical or professional models parallel to the intellectual model - I don't have a problem with that. But to allow people to think they can earn a diploma simply by paying for the classes is obviously missing the point, and it feels like that attitude is becoming more prevalent.

again, I have no problem with the choice part of the equation - enjoy your cheezits, but don't call them grapefruit.
posted by mdn at 12:37 PM on January 17, 2006


But to allow people to think they can earn a diploma simply by paying for the classes is obviously missing the point, and it feels like that attitude is becoming more prevalent.

It sure is--IIRC, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed last fall detailed a lawsuit brought by an undergraduate (in Chicago?) against a professor who'd failed him. He asserted that because he was paying for school (in effect, paying that professor's salary), that instructor had no right to evaluate the student's work--in other words, if I'm paying for school, I get to say how good my work is.

The lawsuit went nowhere, but I think it's only the beginning....
posted by LooseFilter at 5:58 PM on January 17, 2006


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