I began this book on Thanksgiving morning and right off the bat I am very intrigued as the author follows three American exchange students who go to the following countries: Finland, South Korea, and Poland. I am very interested in this because as I have stated before, our county spends approximately 100 million dollars a year on education and we do have some bright spots but overall, in my opinion, we are struggling.
I finished the book at midnight and these are my two takeaways: The first is about the stringent standards teachers must attain in Finland, specifically.
From page 85:
“Today, Finland’s education programs are even more selective, on the order of MIT. It was hard to overstate the implications that cascaded from this one fact. Just one out of every twenty education schools was located at a highly selective institution in the United States. Far more than that had no admission standards at all. In other words, to educate our children, we invited anyone—no matter how poorly educated they were —to give it a try. The irony was revealing, a bit like recruiting flight instructors who had never successfully landed a plane, then wondering why so many planes were crashing.”
From page 89:
“The Finns decided that the only way to get serious about education was to select highly educated teachers, the best and brightest of each generation, and train them rigorously. So, that’s what they did. It was a radically obvious strategy that few countries have attempted.”
From page 93:
“When Kim (she was the foreign exchange student that went from Oklahoma to Finland) was starting kindergarten in 2000, ten out of ten new Finnish teachers had graduated in the top third of their high school classes; only two out of ten American teachers had done so. Incredibly, at some U.S. colleges, students had to meet higher academic standards to play football than to become teachers.”
The second takeaway for me was the rigor these countries showed for academics as compared to the U.S. which places a higher priority, in my opinion, on sports.
From page 118:
Sports were central to American students’ lives and school cultures in a way in which they were not in most education superpowers. Exchange students agreed almost universally on this point. Nine out of ten international students I surveyed said that U.S. kids placed a higher priority on sports, and six out of ten American exchange students agreed with them. Even in middle school, other researchers had found, American students spent double the amount of time playing sports as Koreans.”
From page 118:
“WIthout a doubt, sports brought many benefits, including lessons in leadership and persistence, not to mention exercise. In most U.S. high schools, however, only a minority of students actually played sports. So they weren’t getting the exercise, and the U.S. obesity rates reflected as much. And those valuable life lessons, the ones about leadership and persistence, could be taught through rigorous academic work, too, in ways that were more applicable to the real world. In many U.S. schools, sports instilled leadership and persistence in one group of kids, while draining focus and resources from academics for everyone. The lesson wasn’t that sports couldn’t coexist with education; it was that sports had nothing to do with education.”
This book is a must-read for decision makers in their community’s educational system such as school boards, superintendents, and funding bodies. I definitely give this 5 stars out of 5, primarily because of the thought-provoking questions it brought to the reader.
- Anne Michaud: How to really get serious about children’s education (omaha.com)
- Schooled: The Smartest Kids in the World (slate.com)
- Book Review: Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World, and How They Got that Way (cato.org)
- Do American Schools Need to Change? Depends What You Compare Them To (theatlantic.com)
- Not the Smartest Kids on the Block (danerwin.typepad.com)
- Likely to Succeed (3quarksdaily.com)