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BREAKING: Students Outside America Aren’t One-Dimensional

two million minutes

As we discuss the place of Americans in an increasingly open world – considering A Nation at Risk, how we think about teaching/education and how that fits with future our economic standing – we often hear about students in other countries who seem to be superhuman academics.

We make a serious mistake – and one that’s unkind and insulting – by portraying these kids from India, China, Korea, etc. as being one-dimensional.

But you wouldn’t know that by reading the New York Times, which continually portrays non-American students as being a kindler, gentler version of the 1970′s Soviet athlete, except that the Asian student trains 18 hours a day with calculus books and soybeans instead of freeweights and steroids.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

One of the most striking parts of the film Two Million Minutes is that it shows the remarkable similarity between high-achieving students in the United States, China and India. Socially and culturally, they really aren’t all that different, and that’s a revelation to most people.

If anything, I’d say that China, India and some others are a generation or two behind the US in a good way – that they’re more like the 1950′s/60′s hard-working American with a defined seriousness of purpose.

It’s unfair to our kids for educators and the media to present school as a zero-sum game where other portions of their lives will suffer greatly if they choose to put time into academics. ABC News has a video clip today that features Two Million Minutes’ Apoorva and Rohit, its two Indian students, visiting an American classroom to talk about their experiences. It contains this exchange:

Reporter, to an American student: “Would you want to go to school and work as hard as these young people from India did?

Student: [Pensively] “No.”

You can watch the whole 2-minute clip here.

One can only guess at the thought process of that student, but I imagine his rationale was one of sacrifice and budgeting. Had he understood that he could pursue academics without crippling the rest of his life, “No” might not have come so easily.

And, of course, the clip has the obligatory blind coddling from the American Association of School Administrators’ leading pismire:

Paul D. Houston, Exec. Director of AASA: You know, it’s like telling somebody every day, day in and day out, you’re awful, you’re a failure, you’re terrible – now go out and do better. You’re talking about motivation, that’s not a good motivator.

Houston’s got a problem: he thinks that smiles and goodwill equate to a few years of physics instruction. While there’s no reason to be cruel to our students, we can’t ignore reality, either. Dr. Houston, much of whose work rests on hugs and warm milk before bedtime to ensure academic success, would do well to read Mark Bauerlein’s piece on the state of history knowledge as he reflects on his career after his June 30th retirement.

As you think about the future of education in our country and elsewhere, watch the clip of Rohit, the resume of whom the New York Times would certainly label robotic and freakishly-overachieving, singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” I’d prefer “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” but I’ll take what I can get.

He seems awfully relaxed, comfortable, and like he’s got a handle on more than just engineering.

3 Responses to “BREAKING: Students Outside America Aren’t One-Dimensional”

  1. Colin says:

    “If anything, I’d say that China, India and some others are a generation or two behind the US in a good way – that they’re more like the 1950’s/60’s hard-working American with a defined seriousness of purpose.”

    Agree for the most part. In my profession I work with more internationals than not, mostly Indians and Malaysian-born Chinese, though various others as well (Peruvian, Mexican, Korean, Vietnamese, etc etc). I’m immensely impressed with how balanced their lives are, even after hearing about some crazy study habits (such as sleeping every other night in grad school). Despite the amount of hours we work, most still have families and have passions outside of work. Even my boss, an extremely dedicated employee, stresses regularly the importance of balance, and that work is only priority #3 (other two should be obvious).

    Meanwhile I struggle to watch as much playoff basketball as humanly possible.

  2. Comparing American students with those from China and India covers up the need to compare them with the much better students from Scandanavia, Canada, and most other industrialized nations.

  3. Bryan,

    I’ll steal an act from the 2MM blog here.

    Here’s a list of names of the winners of the Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement:

    “Congratulations to this year’s winners:

    Tianhui Cai, Ashutosh Singhal, Varun Krishnan, Jae Chung, Anatola He, Anne Ye, Julie Jin, Sharon Wu, Stephanie Choi, Shengkai Wu, Mengfei Yang, Rui Hu, Rui Yang, Sriram Velamuri, Bo Hyung Yoon, Maria Birukova, Linxi Ji, Xingping Shen, Michelle Han, Shuo Zhang, Katelyn Gao, Seung-Tack Baek, Nan Hu, Kevin Tong, Malavika Balachandran, Tong Chen, Christina Zou, Anji Tang, Hanlu Chen, Kunal Mehta, Deepa Chari, Igor Luzhansky, Bowen Zhou, Shankari Rajagopal, Heejung Kim, Yiwen Zhan, Helen Wu, Andrea Yonge, Shivani Sud, Vivek Bhattacharya, Elizabeth Wei, Amy Tai, Peter Zhang, Cathy Wu, Ashok Bhaskar, Ji Hyun Kim, Jovian Yu, Bella Wang, Junda Chen, Qing Wang, Hyeseung Chung, , Lingyi Zhang, Emily Xue, Cassandra Xia, Jack Wang, Seungsoo Kim, Maria Xu, Jerry Wang, Srihari Sritharan

    All Canadian and Scandanavian, no doubt.

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