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Leave them kids alone

Submitted by on Tuesday, 31 August 2010 3 Comments
Just as sure as someone's going to be selling a box of crayons for a quarter every August, you can mark the annual bashing of American students on your calendar in the vicinity of Labor Day.

Thanks to cartoonist Jeff Danzinger, we don't have to wait for this year's edition. It landed today, in a drawing featuring an obnoxious American teen wearing a "Skul Suks" T-shirt interrupting a classroom of studious Chinese and Indian children.

Yes, the Chinese education system has improved dramatically in recent decades. Just a generation ago, rural children attended school for only four to six years. These days, the country has slashed illiteracy rates and increased time in school. Americans, please note that public preschool was part of this plan.

However, criticisms that the system has created an educated elite still abound, and corruption has been a problem in the rural schools' initiative.

In India, however, illiteracy remains at 35 percent and the country's colleges have room for only 7 percent of its college-age population. Rural schools are poorly funded and staffed, and the illiteracy rate for girls is even higher than the overall rate.

Is either of those the system we want to replicate here - China's educated elite or India's tradition of uneducated females?

Education reform would be a lot easier in the United States if we did. Instead, we have this stubborn little insistence on giving every child - elite or non-elite, urban or rural, male or female - a chance. Or, at least, we say we try to.

The results are, of course, uneven. That's in part because the starting line is staggered. There are children who enter kindergarten  knowing how to read, and there are children who begin not even knowing how to hold a crayon.

We try to educate them all, because we believe in human potential. We believe in opportunity. Or, at least, some of us do.

But when those efforts fall short, we look for fingers to point. The digits usually are aimed at those bad, bad teachers or those slacker kids.

That's not what I see when I look around.

I see a third-grader on our street who was disappointed because homework wasn't assigned until the second day of class. I see a kindergartener who rushes home and pulls the day's reading homework out of his backpack in a rush to get started. I see kids every morning with their noses stuck in books at the bus stop.

It's easy to miss those in our rush to condemn, in our haste to create pricey programs and expensive consultants who will solemnly tell us what's wrong and then send us an outrageous bill for a cure that doesn't work.

It's easy to overlook as we breathlessly condemn milennials as the attention deficit order generation. Oh, they'll pay attention all right. We just refuse to meet them on their terms.

What if, just for a day, we gave up on the notion that America has gone to hell in a lunchbox and pushed out of our minds the idea the countries that make no attempt to educate everyone do a better job than ours?

If we did that, we might see something other than Danzinger's cartoon.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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3 Comments »

  • Genevieve said:

    Love this post!

  • Leslie K. said:

    Well done. We have an agenda in the country – a noble and GOOD agenda – to provide a rudimentary education to as many kids as possible. Whether we are over-reaching is not the question; rather, it should be a question of recognizing that this country has taken on a task that other countries either ignore or refuse.

  • Debra said:

    What’s the Catholic equivalent of “preacher talking to the choir”, Leslie. We are exactly on the same page.