Can You Top A Rural Indian School Kid?
How bad have American high schools become? A new documentary film tries to drive home just how dumbed down the average U.S. high school is these days by comparing the experiences of American teens with their counterparts in rural India and China.
The movie, Two Million Minutes, makes the case that we have moved so far away from delivering a common foundation of basic and essential teaching of history, geography, math, science and grammar that our kids leave high school with a bogus belief that they have been educated, while students in economically impoverished Third World places are still being drilled in a fairly comprehensive and rigorous curriculum.
How poorly do we compare? Take the Third World Challenge and compare yourself to a rural Indian tenth grader: These are tests from rural Indian schools, and while a couple of them assume a fair amount of India-specific knowledge (I flubbed a couple of questions on the history test because, for example, I had no clue who was known as the father of the Indian National Congress [it's Allan Octavian Hume].)
But the questions in the math, science and English grammar sections require no regional knowledge. Truth be told, these questions actually seem considerably easier than those on your basic SAT and SAT II (what we older folks knew as the Achievement tests) exams that the upper quarter of U.S. students take. But the tests in the Third World Challenge are taken by a much wider swath of students than the SAT and the film's argument is that while the best American students still work hard and get a decent education, it's the average budding citizen who is shortchanged by lowered expectations and a pop mentality that has crowded out the basics of a high school education.
"When it comes to school, America is a sports and extracurricular culture and our kids get that message," the filmmakers say. "On the other side of the globe, the Indian and Chinese cultures are quite different and better suited for the economic competition of the 21st century. In high school, academics are the priority, with sports played for exercise and team building."
To the tests: I aced the grammar quiz (I should hope so) with all 15 right, but my performance on the history (8 of 15) and biology (7 of 15) tests was miserable. I spared myself the humiliation of the physics test (I managed to drop out of physics classes in both high school and college, in both cases within two weeks of starting the subject.
How poorly did you do? Were you thrown by the peculiar grammar of the Indian tests? Does the fact that Indian kids do well on these exams and American kids do not really indicate weakness on the part of our high schools, or do you think there are counterbalancing advantages to our system?
Coming up at noon today--and staying on the big website for the next week--my discussion about the future of Washington's libraries with D.C. Public Libraries director Ginnie Cooper and the director of Ralph Nader's Library Renaissance Project, Robin Diener. That's Raw Fisher Radio at washingtonpost.com/rawfisherradio
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