Originally Posted by rfrobison
Kudos to both you and ledocs for an excellent discussion. I have a question: About 59 minutes in, you criticize the sort rote forms of instruction that the push for standardized tests in schools ends up fostering "as lower order thinking."
Although in the abstract, I sympathize with your position, I wonder what you make of places like Korea, Japan and Singapore, where there is a heavy, heavy emphasis on just that--and yet kids consistently outscore their American counterparts in math, reading, and science.
Here in Japan, I talk to people all the time who spent a year or two in the States in "good high schools" who, to a person, say what their American counterparts were studying in, say, 10th grade, they were learning in 7th and 8th. Uniformly, they say the math and science courses they took in the U.S. were absurdly easy. And despite claiming to be "poor at math," for example, aced those classes with no effort whatsoever.
Is it not the case that drilling, and wrote memorization and such actually work? My general sense is that the U.S. education system is great for the extremely gifted kids, and those with special educational needs (e.g., handicapped students), but that we fail the vast middle by expecting too little of them in terms of being able to do actual tasks, partially because the educational theorists who train teachers find the Asian pedagogical approach old-fashioned, authoritarian, and dull.
Meanwhile the Asians (and Finns) kick our butts year in and year out. Thoughts?
Firstly, I'd like to hear more about "kumon" from Unit. I'm not aware of the methodology by name, but perhaps I've seen it practiced in Busan as well.
Secondly, and this comes from someone who was not a good math student and tried to combine science with languages in high school. I couldn't get around my bad math skills and the rules that dictated I needed math before I advance beyond Honors Chemistry. I tried to take math as if it were another foreign language, but it just didn't work. But, from what I've observed from South Korean students in university and cram schools, as well as from the stories I get from family and friends, teachers are worse than dictators. They still hit students, and scandals still arise here where students catch teachers on their phone cameras hitting students' bodies with their "love sticks". Teachers' unions claim that their members can't teach without a stick, to maintain order. Teachers, even the ones I teach with, also ramble on for most of the class, pass out photocopies by the tree load, and press a button, to play a CD instead of letting students talk. Students are often asleep, or just mindlessly copying information.
As a result, students are dependent on books. I teach conversation, so perhaps there's a disconnect. But, my students just want to hear me talk and parrot a page in the book. I f I get them to talk or correct them, as is my job, many grumble or complain. But, they can't summarize a paragraph, let alone a story. They can't arrange ideas into an essay. professors who grade TOEFL exam essays have told me that they can spot Korean or Japanese students because it's like reading a collection of hundreds of words that don't quite go together, rather than reading an essay. That's because students try to memorize a collection of essays, and then piece them together into the best answer that fits the question. Students know grammar by rote, but they can't actually use it spontaneously. And, many try to rattle off the grammar to me when I correct a simple mistake. "He go store."
"No,'He goes to the store.' "
"Yes, teacher, but the third person singular is not conjugated with 's'."
"Yes, it is. 'He goes.' " And then, we have this ten-minute argument after which everyone is annoyed. The students have gotten a earful of disconnected information compiled and dryly regurgitated for years. And then, they just assume every foreign teacher had the same experience, and is just a dictator too. It gives them the license not to care and not to put in the effort, because their teachers didn't. Also, when students do talk of 'good teachers', it's often for qualities unrelated to pedagogy: nice; generous (he bought me lunch when he asked me to his office to copy his notes for him); cute; funny. OTOH, most students say I'm 'tough'. Professors at the grad level BTW ask grad students to copy their notes and inchoate essays during long 'study sessions'. So, grad students learn to work in teams that can't write an essay alone. Individually, I taught writing to grad students who still couldn't write a coherent sentence, paragraph, or essay. I don't know about anyone else, but I learned essay writing in high school.
Combine this with a lack of interest in reading newspapers or other non-fiction, correlating studying with sleep deprivation because of the test cramming, and western media images, and there's this population of South Koreans who like expensive clothes, but can't even express an opinion in Korean, let alone English. The educational system is good at producing engineers, to produce widgets in teams and English Lit profs who can't have a spontaneous conversation in English.