Thursday, December 01, 2005

Daily Howler on American Education

Nor does Staples ever acknowledge one obvious cause of our shortfall. A few months ago, the Washington Post’s Robert Kaiser was heaping praise on the schools in Finland—the world’s best schools, he excitedly said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/05). It fell to us to note the obvious—Finland is a uni-cultural, middle-class nation with almost no immigrant population and few kids with second-language issues. But then, American schools get good results from middle-class, majority-culture students; on any measure like the TIMSS, the American average is brought down by the very low achievement levels which exist in substantial pockets of the US student population—among second-language kids, Hispanics and blacks. No, Finland never enslaved one-tenth of its population, then spent centuries denying literacy (by force of law) to that oppressed subgroup. Today, we Americans deal with the deadly effects of our ancestors’ benighted conduct. But because we ourselves have taught in low-income, minority schools—schools where delightful, deserving kids can be three years behind by the start of fourth grade—we don’t believe that those Japanese teaching techniques are likely to fix this American problem. Nor does Staples present any evidence to suggest that these techniques will help in these deeply-challenged schools—the schools where our educational disaster is occurring. Presumably, it is in these schools that American averages are dragged down on international surveys. Do we think that Japanese teaching techniques are likely to transform such schools? No, we don’t, and Staples offers no evidence to the contrary. His ruminations are wishful thinking—wishful thinking from a million miles away.


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