[Paleopsych] NYT Letters: Are Japan's Schools Really Better?

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sat Nov 26 02:07:39 UTC 2005

Are Japan's Schools Really Better? (7 Letters)

    To the Editor:

    Re "Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools," by
    Brent Staples (Editorial Observer, Nov. 21):

    I agree that better teacher training and better methodology are
    important ingredients in improving American elementary and secondary
    education, but two other factors should be discussed.

    The first concerns content. American teachers, particularly in science
    and mathematics, are, on average, deficient in their understanding of
    the disciplines they teach. It is only with better education in the
    content of their disciplines that they will be able to impart this
    knowledge, and the accompanying love of the subject, to young

    The second concerns the status of the teaching profession, which in
    our market-oriented society correlates with salaries. The same pool of
    young people that yields excellent doctors, excellent scientists and
    excellent performers in virtually any field will produce excellent
    teachers if given appropriate incentives. American society today is
    getting what it is willing to pay for in its system of education.

    Peter Kahn
    Ithaca, N.Y., Nov. 21, 2005
    The writer is a mathematics professor at Cornell University.

    To the Editor:

    I agree with Brent Staples that the United States should learn from
    Japan about teacher development systems. A narrow focus on "the
    process through which teachers are taught to teach," however, is not

    In Japan and several other Asian countries, teachers benefit from the
    administrative culture of their schools and enjoy substantial support
    from the public. Unlike American teachers, who are isolated in their
    individual classrooms, teachers often have collective offices where
    they can conveniently consult with one another.

    Moreover, with intensive cooperation from Asian parents, who value
    education as their first priority, teachers can easily extend their
    educational objectives from classrooms to homes.

    In asking teachers to improve the quality of teaching, we need to
    nurture an environment that facilitates the effectiveness and growth
    of teachers as well.

    Yingji Wang
    State College, Pa., Nov. 21, 2005

    To the Editor:

    I was shocked to read Brent Staples's glowing review of Japan's
    educational system. I have been teaching English at a private girls'
    high school in Japan for the last year and have witnessed none of the
    zeal for improving "student understanding" that Mr. Staples so
    enthusiastically supports.

    Students' understanding is relevant only insofar as it increases their
    chances of passing university entrance exams. Classes consist of
    lectures, not discussions, and students are taught to memorize, not

    Japanese students may perform better than American students on
    standardized tests, but they lack critical thinking skills.

    Mr. Staples also cites several countries, Japan among them, that have
    ministries of education responsible for "educational quality control."
    But "quality control" for Japan's ministry means promoting the use of
    history textbooks that whitewash or omit information about Japan's
    brutality against its Asian neighbors in the first half of the 20th

    Is this the kind of "quality" we want in our educational system?

    Ellen Rubinstein
    Okayama, Japan, Nov. 21, 2005

    To the Editor:

    As Brent Staples says, Americans "roll their eyes" when researchers
    raise the Japanese comparison. The culture of education in America is
    that learning should be fun and a process of self-discovery. Such a
    culture barely exists in Asia.

    Sure, it would be great if learning could be more entertaining or
    exciting. But that is not a precondition for learning in Asia as it is
    in the United States.

    Colin Wang
    Schofield, Wis., Nov. 21, 2005

    To the Editor:

    My son teaches seventh-grade math in the Bronx as part of the New York
    City Teaching Fellows program. He works incredibly hard on lesson
    strategies to teach critical thinking rather than rote memorization.
    His principal and co-workers are committed and helpful. He gets weekly
    feedback from his math mentor. A gifted professor at the City
    University of New York teaches his weekly math education course.

    But discipline and concentration can sometimes be in short supply
    among a class of 26 12- and 13-year-olds - especially during a long
    day when they have neither recess nor gym. After school many return to
    the safety of their apartments without access to sports or exercise.

    Even with the most rigorous teacher development, students need daily
    exercise and sports to become healthy and effective learners.

    Mary E. O'Brien, M.D.
    New York, Nov. 21, 2005

    To the Editor:

    Why do we always look at teaching methods when discussing the state of
    education in the United States, especially in inner-city schools?
    There are other pressing issues that need to be addressed. Let's
    discuss the parents who are failing to instill in their children the
    values that would bring them to class ready to respect their teachers
    and learn.

    And how about the states and cities that are failing students by
    refusing to pay salaries that would attract a better caliber of
    educator, one who would be more likely to stay the course and make a
    difference in students' lives?

    Mark E. Speer
    New York, Nov. 21, 2005

    To the Editor:

    It is time to take an honest look at the No Child Left Behind Act as
    the true failure that it is. The plan is all about the "shock and awe"
    of testing results instead of the substantial results of formidable
    changes to our teaching. Any educational policy that bases a child's
    failure on a single test result is mean-spirited and warped.

    This system is more concerned with saving the teacher from
    embarrassment, and the administration from poor ratings. It is not
    concerned with the future of our children.

    Marilyn Schiffmann
    New York, Nov. 21, 2005

More information about the paleopsych mailing list