Are American students lazy?
In late December a teacher wrote a piece in the Boston Globe complaining about how lazy her American students are. Kara Miller, 31, who teaches rhetoric and history at Babson College in Boston, wrote, in part,
“Teaching in college, especially one with a large international student population, has given me a stark - and unwelcome - illustration of how Americans’ work ethic often pales in comparison with their peers from overseas.
“My “C,’’ “D,’’ and “F’’ students this semester are almost exclusively American, while my students from India, China, and Latin America have - despite language barriers - generally written solid papers, excelled on exams, and become valuable class participants.”
Not surprisingly, hundreds of people wrote in, some of them hailing Miller as a great truth teller and others attacking her, some even calling her unpatriotic. The discussion spilled into other media.
She wrote a follow-up piece, noting that while she believes international students “often work harder than their American counterparts,” this is emphatically not true across the board.”
Further, she wrote in the follow-up:
“I also noted in the column that there’s too much texting in class, too much dozing off, too much e-mail-checking, too much flirting (I didn’t mention flirting in the first piece, but I’ll mention it here). Obviously, international students do all these things, but I have noticed them more amongst American students.”
Well, as my children sometimes say when I utter something that is painfully self-evidence, “Duh.”
One would assume that students who come to U.S. schools to study are highly motivated (they did, after all, make the considerable effort to get here).
Besides, the experiences of one teacher at one college are hardly sufficient to render a judgment on the whole lot of American students.
Why did I bother writing about it?
Because the very fact that people are debating whether American students are lazy legitimates an illegitimate premise--and that is something that is happening far too much in the world of education today.
We talk about the rise and fall of standardized test scores as if these scores really are the be-all and end-all of student assessment methods.
We talk about “high quality schools” being the solution to the achievement gap as if schools alone can solve the problem--without any chance in the social fabric of the country that leaves too many kids woefully behind in development from their very first day of school.
And this one-dimensional thinking gets in the way of real reform that recognizes the complex nature of teaching and learning.
So if anybody is wondering whether American students are especially lazy, well, some of them are. And some of them aren’t.
And that, my friends, doesn’t get us anywhere.
Let’s have real conversation about real issues.
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| January 5, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Higher Education | Tags: achievement, higher education
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