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Is our system of education really that bad?

  1. Sep 22, 2010 #1
    I keep getting told by my parents how we grow up learning so much less than they have when they were growing up in the soviet union. Is our education really so inferior? I've attended top schools my entire life (until college) and I don't really think it's fair to say that I'm necessarily stupid.

    My main two questions are pretty much this:

    Is our education really getting that worse over time?

    Is American education really as bad as Michael Moore makes it seem? Or are we just being pushed in a sense to be even smarter?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2010 #2


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    A lot would depend on the school, the teachers in that school, etc..
  4. Sep 22, 2010 #3
    Well I was referring to America as a whole. Is the average American student dumber than the average, say, Chinese student?

    What about the smartest in each category? Which country is producing the smarter smart kids?
  5. Sep 22, 2010 #4
    Apparently we don't teach the difference between stupidity and ignorance.
  6. Sep 22, 2010 #5
    How do you define dumb? The impression I get from my Chinese friend is that average Chinese students certainly are more hard working and probably know more facts. If this is how you define intelligence I suspect Chinese students are more intelligent, but personally I would be vary of trying to compare them. He puts it down to pressure from parents (and to some extent society), and to the fact that they have to work really hard early on just to become literate.

    There are tests done such as the pisa tests that try to compare the student population in various countries (but AFAIK no such test included both the US and China). Personally I don't think these tests are significant, but if this is how you define intelligence then you can for instance conclude that Finland is the smartest country among the tested countries, and Mexico is the least smart.

    Who is smarter Einstein or Newton? They are smart in their own way and it's impossible to really say that one was the smarter person. While people like to compare each other by assigning numerical values to their skills, usually people are smarter in their own way. I do not think there is a significant difference between the very top students.
  7. Sep 22, 2010 #6
    Good answer! I was referring to dumbness as the classic definition of intelligence - not about how much you know but how quickly you can learn and apply what you learn
  8. Sep 22, 2010 #7


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    The OP started off asking about education and it quickly hit rock bottom deciding who is smarter or dumber, of course with someone tossing in meaningless IQ scores.

    It seems one of the threads pops up every 60 days or so.
  9. Sep 22, 2010 #8
    Well intelligence is a direct result of education so it would be worth analyzing both..
  10. Sep 22, 2010 #9


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    No, you can be educated and not intelligent and vice versa.
  11. Sep 22, 2010 #10
    When learning in school, you develop your brain and get smarter too.. or will you argue with me on that too?
  12. Sep 22, 2010 #11


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    I initially went to college with a bunch of ex-Soviets (mostly Armenians). I used to get a kick out of their claims of how superior their educational system was. Sure thing, guys, your nation just collapsed and is in such a third world state that you're flooding into mine. One of the girls in my intro-level general bio class had a medical degree from Armenia, which apparently doesn't mean as much as it does in the US since she was only 20 and starting over in general bio because US medical licensing boards don't accept Soviet degrees. She did no better on the exams than I did. My best friend's parents were ex-Soviet engineers that also needed to start over their educations. One became a court clerk and the other a social worker.
  13. Sep 22, 2010 #12
    Well being an Armenian whose family came here 16.5 years ago, I can give you a lot of insight into what you're talking about.

    Believe me, if the medical licensing boards accepted Soviet degrees, there would be a lot more qualified doctors in America - those degrees weren't easy to get in the Soviet Union.

    My father, who had a masters in artificial intelligence in the soviet union, taught me physics in my early years so well that I flew through AP Physics C in high school with less than 20 hours of studying the entire year. He had to take courses in programming (even though he has a degree in engineering) to earn some sort of American degree and he works as one now.

    My mother, who defended her dissertation in the Soviet Union, and worked as a leading professor in the language department, also had to take basic level programming classes here in America and then went to work as a programmer.

    My parents and relatives got back on their feet relatively quickly because of their intelligence and ability to survive harsh conditions. Getting back on their feet in America was a joke compared to what they had to live through back in the Soviet union. Many families don't have that ability and they lose all the value their Soviet degrees hold in this country and end up living in miserable conditions.

    Do you think that's fair?
  14. Sep 22, 2010 #13
    Once in an electronic engineering department where I worked, there were two engineers, one with an associates degree and the other with a master's. The one with the associates grew up in Eastern Europe during WWII and was constantly fleeing from one country to the next. Not only could he not speak English well, there was no language he could speak well although he spoke a number of European languages. He was one of the best engineers I have known.

    The one with a master's could talk for a half hour about anything electronic (and usually did) but couldn't design a circuit. Once when I was laying out a fairly simple printed circuit, he came over and said, "I wouldn't know where to begin."
  15. Sep 22, 2010 #14


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    They were afforded the opportunity to immigrate here in the first place, an opportunity not extended to everybody. There are people the world over whose governments collapse and they die in genocides and civil wars. These "many families" get to come to a place where getting back on your feet is a joke.
  16. Sep 22, 2010 #15
    Like the Armenians?

    That's what I'm trying to say.. After being lucky enough to survive something like that, they come to a new country to find that they have to start their entire education all over again?
  17. Sep 22, 2010 #16


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    Unless you are a Native American, we are all immigrants that had to start over. Yes there are some that had incredible academic credentials that did not have to, but the majority of our parents & grandparents had to, mine included.
  18. Sep 22, 2010 #17


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    Okay, anyone want to actually discuss the OP? If not, I'll close the thread.
  19. Sep 22, 2010 #18
    A great majority of my family had the incredible credentials you speak of and they all had to start over. That's the injustice that I'm talking about.

    The thread went completely off-topic and I wish to return to the discussion regarding our education vs. other countries
  20. Sep 22, 2010 #19
    IMO I think that the American educational system is fine. Obviously, I have no first-hand experience with foreign systems. However, I do know about the education that I have received and believe it to be top notch. I think that the American educational system is much like the American economy. If you put in time and effort you get something in return. If you dont put in effort, then you dont get a good return. There is access to accelerated programming, extra-cirriculars, etc. One controls their own destiny. It is not like the Chinese system that forces students to memorize facts to score well on the college entrance exam.

    Hope that works for you, Evo! :)
  21. Sep 22, 2010 #20
    In all fairness: subjects are constantly evolving beyond what anyone's parents were expected to know (and by "know" people often mean "memorize"--which isn't necessarily "intelligent" so much maybe as it is "knowledgeable"). These same persons who point out the deficiencies of others, are often incompetent in some other measurable ability. So maybe they should work on themselves instead of criticizing.

    To start with: researchers, like Howard Gardner, say that there are in fact multiple intelligences...


    Beside that, there are nearly infinite competencies, to potentially acquire in life--probably as many as there are topics--ranging from tying one's shoes to say operating a nuclear reactor (*bows in respect to Astro*).

    "American" Education? As a professional teacher, I (very regrettably) can plainly tell you, that there's really no such thing. A lot (too much I would say) is left for the individual states to outline and implement; and in many instances, that merely amounts to a lot of self-regulation, number fudging, potential embezzlement, and other oodles of corruption. Absolutely disgusting. *Shakes head* I've seen it first hand.

    I will say this: a lot has changed, even during my own life. My upbringing was kind of rocky to say the least. I went to public school in Brooklyn, NY; public in New Jersey; then back to public in Brooklyn; and then to parochial schools in New Jersey. I have also taught 6th-12th grade mathematics, in both states.

    Frankly: there are definite INCONSISTENCIES between the curricula--even for a subject like mathematics, mind you--and yes, even between two states as physically close and symbiotic as New York and New Jersey are; and I know I've absolutely suffered in my own life, both as a student, and as a teacher because of this lack of continuity. In plainer terms: they just don't teach the same things (never mind the order in which you should actually teach things--which is an entire other disgrace, believe me).

    Couple that with the fact, that there was a "movement" (which I liken to a bowel movement really) in more recent history, to throw out a lot of "older" yet still perfectly functional, and reliable methods in education.

    Rote memorization, for example. Many of the students I've interacted with, during the course of the past 8 years, were NEVER TAUGHT THEIR MULTIPLICATION TABLES before they met me in either 6th grade, or 12th! And these were smart kids, mind you! Somehow, along their way through school, they simply were never encouraged to do that sort of thing.

    And that has lead, in my own opinion at least, to a gravely serious, and in fact, distinctly generational domino effect (where at least mathematics is concerned).

    Math is not like a History course (of course, of course :) ). Whereas, I can teach from say 1492 onward--and wouldn't necessarily need to know anything about Mesopotamia, Egyptians, or Roman culture--to understand math well, really requires instead a constant development of earlier and very contingent basic skills (again, like the times tables).

    I tell my students the same thing all of the time: "if you don't know your multiplication tables, then you will have trouble with division; and if you struggle with division, you will probably dislike fractions; and if you cannot assimilate the notion, of fractions, decimals, and percentages, being different looking, albeit equivalent representations of the same quantity, then you will likely hate Percent Equations; and if you have difficulty with solving percent equations (which I use to introduce algebra), you will have an awful time with solving one-step Algebraic Equations; and then two-steps; and then Functions; and then graphing; and then Trigonometry; and then Calculus; and so forth, and so on; and that's why you end up hating math!"

    Usually, at that point, I turn blue (which also makes them more bemused and alert to what I have to say, believe it or not). :biggrin:

    So, short answer: yes, in a sense, we--adults who are supposed to be in charge, and setting a good example (the ultimate purpose of education, after all)--are doing stupid, stupid crap, all in the name of sheer laziness, and the bottom line: MONEY.

    And that is exactly why students, who mysteriously pass their Regents Exam in New York State, cannot place out of Remedial or Intermediate Algebra, their freshman year of college. And then those, who are incredibly discouraged by this, eventually drop out. It's a terrible situation. Here's an article...


    It's a simple issue of QUALITY VERSUS QUANTITY. The school systems--especially in New York--are pushing incompetent product (namely the students) out the door into community colleges. It makes the schools appear to have done their job, while in fact not nearly having done so. And that's really part of State Department of Education's fault. Self-regulation is never a good idea.

    Here's an idea though: why doesn't some genius--in ANY department of education--if they really care, try modifying their lousy goddamn curriculum to match the standards necessary for actual entrance, and long term, success in college? Why not instead of these bull crap state examinations, we actually prepare our kids for the SATs or ACTs? Isn't that the ideal: seeing as how those exams determine which college (if any), the students will eventually attend; and also, how much scholarship money they ultimately will be able to use, to help pay for cost of their college education?

    Headlines and statistics keep indicating to me anyway, that we're "supposed to be moving past a manufacturing based economy." And so then, logically: if we do actually care about our children and their future capacity to support themselves (and us); perhaps we ought to be actually preparing them for white collar, engineering, or professional jobs.

    The truth is (and this will sound cynical) that NO ONE IS REALLY IN CHARGE of Education, in this country; and I cannot help but sense, really, that that is exactly by design.

    Did you ever notice, in any of the places that you may have worked in your own life, that some things just remain broken, for as long as you work there? It's because no one cares enough to take the time to actually understand and fix something that needs repair.

    As I have always seen it: my job was fixing broken minds--of taking the time to assess the individual, their problems, and their weaknesses with my subject; and then to attempt to address those issues, case by case, for however long it friggin takes me. And I actually quit my job teaching, two weeks ago now--after nearly 8 years--because I finally realized exactly what I've been trying to say to all of you here, all along. The system just won't allow you, as an educator, to actually fix what's broken. Sometimes, in fact, when you try, you get punished for it. :mad:

    The very best analogy I can offer you is this: it is the difference between working for a company like General Motor's, and a company like Toyota. At Toyota: each individual worker has the right to actually stop the line of production--for any reason--when they suspect there's a flaw; which is great for quality control (despite what anyone says about Toyota these days). But at GM: there's an equation, I'm sure somewhere, that plainly predicts x amount of cars produced in one day turns out y amount of profit, long term. And therein lies the major distinction. Again: Quality versus Quantity. "Just git'r done!"


    People like this friggin guy can be funny--but they should never be your goddamn boss! Or, in charge of anything, outside of maybe a weekend barbecue.

    Finally, I leave you with this thought in mind: maybe if we actually attempted to replicate what the other industrialized nations are doing in education (sort of their abuses and/or corruption), then we'd be able to compete academically.

    But for right now: the state of so-called "American Education" is directly proportional to the state of old General Motors Corporation; which, as you probably know, went bankrupt 2 years ago. God help us.

    Very true. And not to be political, but I would argue that Bush the younger was well educated, while not naturally intelligent (at least not in the verbal sense). He might have been highly intelligent kinesthetically. God bless Howard Gardner.

    I am fond of this expression myself: "90% of all statistics quoted are made up on the spot." :biggrin:
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