Friday, October 5, 2012

We Need to be More Like Asia?

In an online discussion with someone on another blog, the person made a reference to a story that compared American schools to schools in South Korea. Of course, the article proclaims how successful South Korean schools are despite having as many as fifty students in a class. This is in contrast to American public school teachers demanding to have a class of no more than 20-25 students, especially in the younger grades. (Disregard the fact that no successful private school would have classes with fifty plus students.)

 Do we really want to compare our schools to Asian schools? Do these people understand that there are huge cultural differences that contribute to the success of Asian students in those schools? Furthermore, do they release that though Asian companies produce a lot of products, American companies are the ones coming up with the creative products they produce? Our "drill and kill" charter schools have nothing on the testing machine in Asian schools. This article by Jay Mathews in The Washington Post sheds some light on the Asian school environment. Here is an excerpt.

Officeholders, lobbyists and think tanks offer embarrassing figures as proof that we need to train our teachers better and give students more time in class like Asian schools do. But Boris Korsunsky, a physics teacher at Weston High School in Massachusetts, sensed holes in the argument. He had been a successful student in the high-pressure schools of Moscow, so he sought comment from Asian students who had moved to U.S. schools and knew what they were talking about.
Korsunsky’s informal online survey of about 80 students, most of them from China and Korea, is worth mentioning next time your neighbor says Asian schools should be our model. People in this region who think our many high-performing schools are pushing kids too hard should also pay attention.
“The pressures and workloads that the students and the teachers in the U.S. are facing nowadays are, perhaps, greater than they were a decade ago,” Korsunsky said in a recent paper. “But still, compared to a typical Chinese or Korean school, a high-pressure U.S. school is a summer camp.”
Let’s start with discipline. Korsunsky’s student sources are not describing a Chinese version of a blackboard jungle with metal detectors at the main entrance. These are some of the best and most selective schools in Asia. Being “tardy usually results in physical punishment, such as running in the gym a few times or doing jumping jacks. Forgetting to do homework and talking during class will often result in hitting with ruler or some sort,” one student said.
U.S. students and parents frightened by the SAT should recognize it is a paper tiger to students who grew up in Asian nations where the national college-entrance tests are much more important. Selective universities in China and Korea are not so impressed if you set the school shot-put record or volunteered weekly at a hospital. Asian schools spend little time on art, sports or extracurricular activities. The test is everything. Teachers don’t let you forget it.
Instruction is by lecture — and more lecture. Students are usually sitting the whole day, which can run eight hours or more, scribbling notes. One student wrote that weaker students never ask questions in classbecause the teachers “would be mad at you if you ask what they consider stupid questions.”
“In China, teachers stay at the board instructing after the bell and students do not leave unless told to do so,” another student said.
Sciences are often taught through memorization. Homework is a mountain of practice problems. If you get something wrong, you have to write out the correct answer repeatedly. Labs are rare, because they won’t help you much on the exam.
“We did only one physics lab, one chemistry lab and no bio lab,” one student told Korsunsky. “Ironically, the physics lab we did was for an American high school principal who visited our school.”

You can read the entire article here. The Asian immigrants mentioned this article found our schools to be  culture shock. A good culture shock. I think if American schools start to function more like Asian schools, it will be a huge culture shock to our population. It will be a shock full of complaints and noncompliance. 

Here's the question that is never asked when comparing American schools to Asian schools. If teachers are suddenly expected to perform well as Asian teachers supposedly perform, then should there also be an expectation that American parents raise their children in the Asian cultural tradition? Their success of these schools is not limited to the performance of the adults in the classrooms. 

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