I go to school every weekday. I wake up early, I arrive on time, I pay attention, and I ask questions. After a full day of school I go to basketball practice for 2 hours. But then I get home and it is back to school work for the rest of the night. I enjoy learning and I like going to school, but as a hard working student, I am confused and intimidated by the notion that “America is in danger of falling behind.” Although I have heard of America’s seemingly lacking education, this article from the New York Times finally provides some facts. According to the PISA Standardized test, students in Shanghai scored the highest out of the 65 countries tested in math, science, and English. Disappointingly, the United States did not even make the top 10, or the top 20. According to this exam American students ranked 23rd.
Initially, I took these results too seriously, thinking that if the rigor with which I am studying is only earning my country 23rd place globally, I must be doing something wrong, right? Everyone must be doing something wrong. But then I thought why does my mentality have to be “us” against “them?” In English class we have been discussing the “other.” The “other” refers to those who are not considered the “norm” in their society. My class created a list of the accepted norms in the America society:
· Middle class
· English speaking
· A businessman
We had an honest discussion about what it is like to be on the outside of this preconceived “norm.” And we discovered that even lacking one of these qualities automatically puts you at risk of becoming an “other.” Labeling a group as the “other” has become a problem in the past years. For example, after 9/11 most people thought all Muslims were terrorists. Because there is not a lot of media around the Islamic culture, people start to believe this notion. Similarly, most people assume Asians are naturally smart. While it does seem that the Asian population takes education more seriously than other cultures, they are not smart merely because they are Asian. They are smart because they have worked hard to become so. I fear that we have already turned Asians into an “other” in terms of education. Instead of striving for perfection in our own school systems, we seem to keep creating excuses as to why places like China and Japan are better equipped for educational success. The same article as above provides some reasons as to why China scored so high on recent exams, “Chinese students spend less time than American students on athletics, music and other activities not geared toward success on exams in core subjects. Also, in recent years, teaching has rapidly climbed up the ladder of preferred occupations in China, and salaries have risen. In Shanghai, the authorities have undertaken important curricular reforms, and educators have been given more freedom to experiment.”
My proposal is to try and combat thinking of things as “us” vs. “them.” Instead of fretting about the successes of the Chinese for their stellar test results, why not congratulate them? If the world truly is becoming extremely globalized, why not celebrate each other’s successes and learn from one and other. The article said that the Chinese are raising the teachers’ salaries and reforming teaching styles, why not try that here? We don’t have to make the same types of reforms as the Chinese, but we should make changes that will benefit us. I think we would like to believe that even though we are not as “smart” as the Chinese, we are better athletes or more well-rounded than our Asian counterparts, but that again creates the “us” vs. “them” mentality. If we dig a little deeper and try to learn more about the students who are scoring higher on their exams, we would probably learn that they are not that different than us. They probably have a favorite class, a favorite teacher, a teacher they don’t like, a crush that sits next to them in class. They probably get nervous before a big test and they probably are just as sleep deprived as us. In order to combat this “us” vs. “Them” thought, we need to start identifying what makes us similar. China is far away from the US, it is easy to create falsities about the country and its people, but what is the point in that?
Please leave your comments, questions, and insights. I am very interested in this topic and would love to hear your opinions as well!
Until next time…