The Reality of American Education — Part 2/3

04 Jul

MYTH: “The United States Used to Have the Worlds Smartest Schoolchildren.”

ANSWER: Ben Wildavsky says, “No, it didn’t. Even at the height of U.S. geopolitical dominance and economic strength, American students were never anywhere near the head of the class … the results from the first major international math test came out in 1967 … Japan took first place out of 12 countries, while the United States finished near the bottom …

“If American’s ahistorical [unconcerned with or unrelated to history or to historical development or to tradition] sense of their global decline prompts educators to come up with innovative new ideas, that’s all to the good.  But don’t expect any of them to bring the country back to its educational golden age—there wasn’t one.”

MYTH: “Chinese Students Are Eating America’s Lunch.”

Wildavsky’s ANSWER: “Only Partly True … China’s educational prowess is real. Tiger moms (such as Amy Chua, who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) are no myth — Chinese students focus intensely on their schoolwork, with strong family support (mostly missing in the U.S.), but these results don’t necessarily provide compelling evidence of U.S. inferiority.”

“Wildavsky then says that many of the students in rural China outside Shanghai (the PISA international test was conducted only in Shanghai) are poorer and less educated than ‘China’s’ coastal cities …

Wildavsky says, “(American) alarmist comparisons with other countries, whose challenges are quite different from those of the United States, don’t help.

“Americans should be less worried about how their own kids compare with kids in Helsinki (Finland) than how students in the Bronx measure up to their peers in Westchester Country.”

MYTH: “The U.S. No Longer Attracts the Best and the Brightest”


While Wildavsky mentions that the U.S. should be concerned about the future, the U.S. college education system was (and still is) second to none since the United States has long been the world’s largest magnet for international students.

In fact, he says there are more foreign students in the United States today than there were a decade ago — 149,999 more in 2008 than in 2000.

For international graduate study, Wildavsky says, American universities are a particularly powerful draw in fields that may directly affect the future competitiveness of a country’s economy: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Continued on July 5, 2011 in The Reality of American Education – Part 3 or return to Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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