I just finished reading an article on NPR, Struggle for Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning. I’ll post a link to the full article at the end of this post.
Education and our children, is and always has been an emotionally charged subject to debate but what, if any, change has come out of all those discussions? A few questions to ask ourselves: Are our children better educated these days? Is it just about academic excellence and what price, if any, do the children who do not excel pay in self-esteem and success when entering the job market? What should the role of our teachers be to encourage and support those kids? Parents are often criticized for not taking enough responsibility in overseeing their children’s progress both academically and emotionally. Do you agree?
This article suggests that American schools support only the best students and judge those who struggle as “not very smart”. I don’t think the article was referencing the kids that have distinct learning disabilities but were talking about kids who might just need a little more time and attention to, “get it”. That was my take anyway.
I’m reminded of my son’s sophomore year in high school. He was falling behind in one of his classes and damned if I can remember now which one it was. I learned of the issue during a parent-teacher conference. I asked the teacher if some “extra help” after school would be available to my son. This teacher looked at me straight in the eye and said that given the number of students he taught he didn’t have the time to tutor those that were falling behind and that they were, “on their own”. I know, as a parent, I was a bit sensitive when it came to my son and, yes, I had the option of finding my son a tutor outside of the school system but this guy’s response rattled me to the core! Admittedly, I’m an idealist but with a clear sense of what is realistic and I shouldn’t have been surprised at this response but then again, I’m an idealist.
By contrast, in the West, Asian children who struggle are brought to the forefront and urged to keep working on those areas in which they are challenged. Jim Stigler, now a professor of psychology at UCLA, shared his experience as a guest in a classroom he visited in Japan in the late 70’s while a graduate student at the University of Michigan. One fourth grader in this class was having trouble drawing a cube. The teacher asked the kid to go to the blackboard in front of the class and continue trying to draw a cube. Every few minutes the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid got it right. The kids would look up from their work and shake their heads no. By the end of the class this kid did succeed in drawing a cube. The teacher asked the class, “how does this look”. They all looked up and said, “He did it!” And broke into applause. The kid smiled and sat down, clearly proud of himself. While I get the message: Persistence pays off, I have mixed emotions about the way in which it was carried out in this scenario. With this particular kid it worked out fine but what would have happened is he hadn’t figured it out? Would his classmates have responded by booing him? I know, I’m too sensitive! Still…
This article is limited in its scope and I take it with a grain of salt but it does serve to bring the subject of education back to the table. I’d like to hear what you think. What has been your experience with your kids that are currently attending school in America or abroad? I know, it’s probably moot. Your kids are all geniuses like my son. :)
Here’s the link to the NPR post: NPR, Struggle for Smarts
P.S. If you do read the article you must read some of the comments too. The fun starts with the following comment from “JB”, “Failure should be stigmatized”.