“Stupid Americans.” Most have heard this degrading moniker more than once. Unfortunately, many
American students have probably even been called one, especially when traveling abroad.
Senior Jamie Lee Greene admits that, while studying at FDU’s Wroxton College, she experienced the embarrassment of being ridiculed for being an American student. She recalls one time when she was at a bus stop and a French man made fun of her and her friends, chanting “stupid Americans” at them.
“It was so cliche,” says Greene.
Throughout the world, most view Americans as below average in intelligence or just plain dumb when it comes to common knowledge. Yet, it is the norm to attend school for our entire childhood and into adulthood.
It is perhaps the differences in the education systems in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world that contribute on the “stupid” stereotype placed on Americans.
“It’s a lot stricter over in Europe,”says Greene. Greene felt initimidated coming from a USA schooling system and switching over to the “more like boarding school” system in Europe.
“There’s a lot more writing, more papers, and I think it’s biased to the teacher’s opinion,” she says.
“It’s more relaxed here,” confirms Singaporean and FDU sophomore Nicole Seow. “It’s at a slower pace. In Singapore, elementary schools are studying high school topics.”
Seow lived in Singapore and finished her primary education there, then completed high school and is now attending college here in the states. On the other side of the globe, the powerhouse Asia is competing for the continent with the best educational system. Being more similar to the European school system than America’s, Asia has a strict and demanding schooling process.
“They move at a fast pace there. All parents over there pressure their kids into getting good grades,” says Seow. “If you don’t get good grades, you’re a disgrace. You have to keep on top if you want to survive.”
This mentality to compete and strive to always be on top has resulted in Asian students being some of the best in the world. Already a well-known perception worldwide, Asians are usually viewed as being studious, prodigies, and “brainiacs.”
Sadly, students in this nation seem to be doing the complete opposite, and taking a turn for the worst.
The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) recently completed a study on the literacy of American adults in the 21st century. According to NCES, “The United States has an educated population, although the attainment is lower, and the drop-out rate in the U.S. is the highest among developed nations.”
Another study completed by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed even more flaws in the U.S. education system. PISA has proven that when comparing American students to those in other nations, students here are “ranking below average in science and mathematics understanding.”
It can be shocking to hear that what is considered the most powerful and highly-developed nation in the world is producing below average students.
However, many Americans still may not be admitting the perceived flaws in its education system.
A recent survey administered by the Gallup Poll showed that 76 percent of Americans were either completely or somewhat satisfied with the public school education their children are receiving.
In turn, those outside of the country have become aware that Americans are not performing up to their capabilities, and this has affected the way that other countries perceive the U.S..
FDU Foreign Language Professor Patricia Bazan-Figueras teaches students in various universities in America and abroad, including teaching the English language outside of the country to businessmen.
“Regarding other industrial nations, yes, we could be doing better,” says Bazan-Figueras. “The school system needs serious change. The ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB) law demands too much of both teachers and students…and Europeans tend to think we are ‘uncivilized.’”
Aware of the saddening situation of the USA’s educational system, reporter John Stossel decided to shed light on the topic by airing his program, controversially named “Stupid in America,” on 20/20.
Stossel bluntly stated in the article accompanying his program on the ABC News website that, “‘Stupid in America’ is a nasty title for a program about public education, but some nasty things are going on in America’s public school and it’s about time we face up to it.”
Statistics have shown that in those countries whose students achieve the highest scores on international tests, parents are allowed to choose what school to send their children to.
“Competition forces private and public schools to improve,” writes Stossel.
The ability to choose what school one’s child goes to is at times not an option for some; many children are simply sent to whatever public school is available in their locality. This means that public schools do not have to give an exceptional education, where they are not challenging the students or pushing them to succeed. Recent trends show that the longer a child remains in a public school education setting, the worse their grades seem to get.
“At age 10, American students taking an international test score well above the international average,” Stossel reports. “But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th.”
A huge problem is that many people just can’t afford a good education.
“If you want to get a good job and education, you have to go to a college with a good name,” says Assistant Vice President of Citibank Blanca Gonzalez.
Being born in Spain and moving to the U.S. in her early 20s has offered Gonzalez a taste of both worlds. She attended grammar school in the U.S., high school in Spain, and then Saint Peter’s College here back in the states. She explains, “private education here is too expensive and not everyone can pay.”
“Many kids are miserable in bad schools,” Stossel adds. “If they are not rich enough to move, or to pay for private school, they are trapped.”
“The private school option, which only the higher income families can attain, are the ones that have the main possibility for success,” confirms tutor Ramon Lopez, who works in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Involved in the Spanish school system, Lopez tutors those students who need extra help in classes they are failing. He believes that one of the major problems that the American schooling system has is that not all people have an equal opportunity to receive a good education.
Lopez says, “Students coming from public schools of lowly favored communities come out of school really badly prepared.”
He says that since most students are in public schools, the level of difficulty right down to the material being taught is the same throughout Europe. Thus everyone has an equal opportunity in regards to education.
However, since public schools in poorer neighborhoods do not have the same technological and financial resources as private schools do, the students’ education suffers.
A recent CBS News poll has shown that most American adults believe that the biggest problem troubling schools today is “discipline/lack of discipline.” It has been proven that the countries ranking highest on quality education provide some of the strictest schooling procedures.
This extreme pressure put on children to be the best and to remain always on top is reflected in the disciplinary procedures in Asia: which still include caning.
Even less extreme disciplinary measures are utilized by countries shown to surpass Americans in tests measuring a broad intellect that expands across a wide range of topics.
“You cannot say that all American students are lazy or unskilled,” says Bazan-Figueras. “I have met many driven, serious, competitive, cultured and extraordinary people.
Unfortunately, I have also met many who cannot write or debate even if their lives were at stake.”
The interesting fact is that the “best” students seem to be of a multicultural background.
“The successful ones are usually multi-cultural, speak a second language, are active in their community, travel a lot, and are of multiple backgrounds and ethnic groups,” Bazan-Figueras explains. “I currently teach a class that has a delightful variety of people: French, Anglo-Saxon, Scottish, Spanish, Chilean, Puerto Rican, Italian, and Polish. It does not get any better than that, and you cannot teach them in a traditional way.”
Lopez believes that there are some similarities in the systems of education in Europe and the U.S., mainly in that they are designed to form a fully capable citizen, who is aware and knowledgeable of the world around him.
“I guess that in the U.S., like in Europe, studies in general, including the university level, are oriented to the acquiring of general knowledge and the formation as a person,” says Lopez. “But it’s distinct depending on the country. The principal difference is not in the curriculum of materials that are taught, but in the way in which they are taught.”
The education system in American is not the only one with flaws. Gonzalez explains that the schooling system here is better than that of Europe’s in many ways.
“In Europe it’s not geared towards the working world,” says Gonzalez.
“There are cases in Europe and other countries where students are not prepared for life,” adds Bazan-Figueras. “Students there have too much book smarts, but for work they don’t have what they need. They don’t know how to apply it.”
“With the immense backgrounds this country has, we should be citizens of the world,” she adds. “Our children and college students should travel more often and learn about other cultures firsthand after having taken courses on the culture, politics, history and society in the classroom.”
To do just that, most students here at FDU are excited at the prospect of widening their horizons and studying a semester abroad in Wroxton.
Many European students still come to the U.S. in order to attain their college degree. Despite the belief that Americans are “stupid.” most view a college degree from America as more valuable than one from a European nation.
Europeans know that, “when you finish a college degree here that you are ready to work,” says Gonzalez. “Most do internships so they already have that working experience.”
In fact, most still believe that American kids are getting a pretty good education - even though statistics show otherwise.
Published in the February 28, 2007 issue of The Metro.