Many students from other nations come to study in the United States — a robust tradition that helps bridge cultural divides. One would hope that coming here would leave a good impression. Sadly, that’s far from the case. When comparing their experience here to the expectations they face back home, the U.S. frequently comes up short:
Students from abroad are even more likely today to describe U.S. classes as easier than they were in 2001. The combined “much easier” and “a little easier” responses grew from 85.2% in 2001 to 90.0% in 2016. The change in the “much easier” rating, increasing from 55.9% to 66.4%, is statistically significant.
I currently teach in a private high school. This year, I have two Vietnamese exchange students (one male, one female). Not only are they consistently at or near the top of their class standings, they sometimes visibly react to their fellow students’ occasional whine (my words, not theirs) about things being “too hard.” Frankly, it’s embarrassing. Whereas these guests don’t hesitate to ask well-thought questions or double-check their understanding, my local students’ questions are often a variation of “is this something we have to know for the test?” (My standard answer is to ask them: “is it in the reading?” After they respond “yes,” I remind them any such material is fair game. No, I’m not the most popular teacher among the seniors.)
Surprisingly, as my US History class recently began the Vietnam War era, the exchange student in that class seemed reluctant when I approached him privately to encourage him to share his nation’s perspective on that time. Only after communicating with his host family did I learn that not much at all is taught about that period in Vietnam. Perhaps they’re consciously putting it behind them. Regardless, it’s somewhat interesting to know my exchange student is learning about that era for the first time, alongside his American classmates.
That said, I have no doubt he’ll ace the exam, or come close to it.
The main difference I can see between public and private schools is that discipline is much better maintained in the latter. But while there are some standout exceptions, most students aren’t interested in doing any more than the bare minimum, the same as their public school counterparts. Like many teachers, I try to use gimmicks and games to increase interest, but the sad fact is that we simply don’t expect as much of ourselves as we once did. When I look at what was expected of eighth graders just over a century ago, I marvel at how far we, as a nation, have fallen.
And I wonder sometimes if our current public educational systems are designed to produce historically illiterate, logically challenged graduates who’ll take the word of “experts” at face value because they don’t know any better.