Amanda Ripley, author and Time magazine journalist, wrote a more than mildly interesting book entitled, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way”
Perturbed by the erratic and non-congruent educational vs. cultural dissonance she witnessed between the United States and other flourishing “educacracies” in South Korea, Finland and Poland, she embarked on a small scale international lab experiment involving 3 foreign exchange students from the United States as they acculturated into the vast unknown outposts of schooling in those three countries. She excavated many insightful observations about the cultural idiosyncrasies peculiar to the broad cultural phenomena that manifested in the evolution of “smart kids.”
Jeff Schechtman, at his eponymous “Specific Gravity” blog, posted a great interview he conducted with Amanda Ripley in which she detailed her experiences and impressions following her scholarly investigations.
As a parent with a son in his Junior year, I thoroughly identify with much of this subject matter.
Ultimately, success in school can be whittled down to one word: caring.
Obviously, caring by itself isn’t always enough. There is aptitude and innate intelligence, qualities educators shy away from because education prides itself on being the democratic refuge of the neglected. Ripley mentions the concept of “social mobility” which is great, but I believe is a concept that cheaply lends itself to blind egalitarianism which is simply never the convenient case. At the 23:00 mark, Ripley touches on some observational genius in which she implies that life is cruel (my words entirely) and that the sooner we teach our children this notion, the sooner they will be able to fend for themselves. She imprints the high school sports “template” (a bit bitterly, I thought!) onto the educational blueprint and alleges that if kids worked as hard in academic classes as their athletic counterparts are expected to (after school practices, etc), grades would improve. I agree with this completely. In America, we seem to have to no problem requiring that extra step, or 10, to excel on the gridiron, but we shy away from such demands in the classroom.
The takeaway from the interview is that high schoolers must integrate school as their calling, at least for the time they are involved. School must take priority and furthermore, there are no other options to success. This is the tricky part. As the economy has faltered and the realization that college education is not the dependable key to prosperity it once was, the question lingers for high school students. Is all this trouble worth it? In fact, American children are more prone to question the justification for education more than ever.
“Maybe my idea of success has nothing to do with yours.”
How does one dispel this notion when the your garden-variety MBA is entrusted with using his “intelligence” to circumvent honor and respect?
The title of Ripley’s book should perhaps be “How I Culturally Squelched Your Individuality and Autonomy From the Day I Wiped Your Ass Just So You Would Not Question My Notions.”