A Japanese teenager has been arrested for cheating on his college entrance exam. This has become a national news story in Japan. The student in question was 19 … he had failed to qualify the previous year for a university appointment, and went to what the Japanese call a “cram school” to prepare for the test. He then received aide through a cell phone during the test.
The student could (though apparently this is unlikely) receive a three year prison sentence and a few thousand dollars in fines.
Let’s reflect on this:
If this had been a U.S. teenager cheating on an ACT, the worst would have been an invalidation of his ACT results, and he likely would have been denied entrance to a lot of colleges …. spend a few years at the local CC, and (s)he is back in action.
In Japan: arrest, at least the potential for prison and substantial fines … and I am assuming his chances of ever seeing a Japanese university will be slim to none.
Let me go on a slightly illogical extension of this: what does this tell us about the two societies, and their approach to education? At the very core of the decade plus long debate on how awful American schools are is that we trail other nations in math and science (I guess you really can’t accurately gauge English and history). The number one response to this has been to blame teachers and schools in general of not caring about the students.
The assumption is faulty given the “educate all” approach in the United States, and the “educate most, some, or few” in other nations. It has always been a comparison of apples and oranges, but no one seems to like considering that.
But how can we compete against this? I think most Americans would look at this story and cheer about “that’s what we need to do” … “arrest the cheaters!” … at least they would do that until their own kid, or the neighbor’s kid, or their nieces or nephews were sitting in a jail cell waiting for a court date because they just got texted an answer to the ACT … then it would be “barbaric” … “an afront to the democratic process” … “how can we punish a kid’s entire life for one mistake”.
What I want to point out: education is and always shall be a function of the society it is a part of. If education in America back in the 1950s was so “wonderful” (and it really wasn’t as wonderful as people make it out to be), it was a function of corporal punishment, segregation, the ability of a school to expel any student they wanted with minimal due process, the ability of the schools to fire any teacher for any reason (more often than not for progressive education than actual poor teaching), the ability of a school to place a label like “uneducable” or “mentally retarded”, or “miscreant”, and get those students shipped off to special schools or worse) institutions, often over the parents wishes … even if the issue was with the school and the teachers instead of with the kid.
There is a reason we Americans left that in our past … American society no longer wanted that because it was inherently bad for kids. As our society changed, so did the schools and the laws governing them.
Now, our society wants to go back to those days, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience their individual family. We have created a system where it is politically advantageous for schools to subtlely get rid of underperforming students before their junior year when the high stakes testing kicks in. Offering shoddy and minimal special education services are one way to do this. Lowering the threshold of what constitutes an expellable offense is another.
Societies always look for the balance between freedom and discipline. A nation like Iran undoubtedly has discipline and great schools … but I don’t see a lot of the world lining up to model their education system on Iran’s. Japan is more free, but their level of freedom does not equate to anything the average American would put up with (nor do I think it would actually work in our society). The United States can have schools like other nations … I am convinced of this!
But, are they willing to give up what it will take to get there?
I think the answer is no. Until that changes, this nation will have to stop trying to be like other nations, and realize that in many, many parts of the country, education is on the right path, and in many cases is doing a fine job … and that it is typically doing a poor job where the local society cares the least about education. Interjecting federal control over schools won’t help the underperforming ones, and will in fact hurt the ones that are doing great.