Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Singapore as a Model

In education departments across the country, comparative education is the hot new field. The top two education schools in the nation--Columbia's Teachers College and the Stanford University School of Education--have entire programs dedicated to it. You can specialize in comparing America's education system with others from around the world and even specialize in a particular region, such as Asia, Africa, or Europe. The trend is spreading throughout the country. For instance, in my Education Policy specialization at UVA, we had to take a least one course in comparative education. Having lived in Asia for several years, I chose Asian Education.

In this spirit of diversity, I nominate Singapore as a model that we can learn from here in the United States. When I lived in Asia, I always flew Singapore Airlines, not only for the great service, but also because I loved to get free stopovers in beautiful, fascinating, orderly Singapore. This prosperous city-state, just two degrees north of the equator at the tip of the Malay peninsula, is a staunch U.S. ally in the War on Terror, has one of the best economies in the world, and is the most orderly and well-run country in the world. The city is stunning, with so many fascinating places to visit: Sentosa Island, a terrific zoo and night safari, beautiful gardens throughout the city such as the Botanical Gardens, great museums, terrific transportation system, and excellent colonial architecture. There are no drugs and very little crime, and the people are friendly and well-cultured.

Our education system could learn many things from Singapore:

1) English as the national language, the medium of instruction from primary school on in order that no one ethnic group has to learn the language of another. There is no "bilingual education." Singapore acknowledges that English is the world language of commerce and having students not learn it puts them at a disadvantage.

Why here in the U.S. should we put signs in Spanish when we are a multiracial and multiethnic society like Singapore? English, like in Singapore, should be the unifying language.

2) A very low tolerance for leftist antics, such as the methods used by "social justice" professors and the teachers they have trained.

3) Pride in one's heritage that transcends ethnic divisions. The relationships and tenets of Confucianism are prized as well as a healthy pride in its Western colonial heritage. This pride is for all ethnic groups and promotes a common cultural Singaporean identity.

All ethnic groups in the U.S. should have pride and an identity with our Western, Christian, and classical heritage, even if the mother countries were not influenced by it. Like Singapore, we have always been and should remain a multiracial society, not a multicultural, balkanized society that the "social justice" advocates want.

4) Excellent, low-cost textbooks that stress academic achievement and facts instead of "discovery learning" and "constuctivist" learning techniques, such as the dumbed down "fuzzy math" curricula popular here in the United States.

Singapore has consistently scored in first place for math and science in the TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) tests, as compared with the United States which consistently scores towards the bottom of industrialized states. The Singapore Math series (and its other subjects), used in the schools, has become so renowned that it is even commonly used in homeschooling in the U.S. Would only our public schools use these kind of texts (and save a heckuva lot of money too). As Harold W. Stevenson and James Stigler state in their classic comparative education study The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education, "American textbooks tend to excessively long, repetitive, and distracting and underestimate what children can understand."

In fact, much of Singapore's philosophy towards education is guided by its Confucian attitude. We could learn a lot from Singapore and the East Asian nations, and the recommendations in The Learning Gap--high national standards, defined academic goals of education, not labeling or tracking students and teaching towards the majority, not relying on money to solve problems, teaching to the whole class instead of small individual groups, and not underestimating what children are capable of academically--would be ideal for the United States. Catholic schools in the U.S. have been doing these things for years, hence the much higher achievement in Catholic schools, particularly in the inner city.

Thus, comparative education would appear to be a very noble field that could highly enrich the United States and make us continue to be at the top of the playing field economically, scientifically, and culturally. The descriptions of comparative education programs and classes make sense, such as this from Stanford University:

ICE is a multidisciplinary, international, cross-cultural program of training that places educational problems into an international and comparative framework. Core courses explore how education is related to economic, political, and social development in both developed and developing countries. The program provides a strong theoretical and empirical base for studying education in a rapidly changing global context and for understanding the how and why of successful policy-making to improve educational practice in different social settings.
And this Spring 2007 course description from UVA at the Falls Church academic center:

This interdisciplinary course examines education issues in selected countries
and focuses on the relationships between education and society and the role of
education in national development. Education topics, which transcend national
boundaries and have implications for American schools are also addressed.
Sound good so far? Enter "social justice" professors and "progressives" who so dominate all education departments thoughout the nation.

The studies such as The Learning Gap, which demonstrate the truth about why Confucian countries so outperform the United States, will generally not be made available to students in comparative education courses taught by "social justice" professors and "progressives." After all, these studies are a threat to "progressive" techniques.

Instead, these professors often amazingly convince students that "progressive" techniques that have been used in public schools in the U.S. since the 1920s and have consistently failed and been recycled numerous times (which is why we rank so low in comparative academic achievement) are actually the reason that the Asian countries score so high. (The real reasons are highlighted in blue above.) As this narrative (George Orwell calls it doublethink) unfolds, it turns out that we are not successful compared to the Asian countries because (have you heard this before?) the "progressive" teaching techniques have not yet been implemented correctly to the degree "progressives" and "social justice" professors would like, thanks to conservatives. Never mind "progressives" have had 80 years of virtual domination of the education establishment to do whatever they like.

Thus naive, gullible young students with little foreign experience and who have been taught all their lives by "progressives" actually will believe that Singapore has high achievement in math and science because it is a "multicultural" society with several different languages--therefore, we have proven that the U.S. is strong because of diversity and multiculturalism. In other words, gullible and poorly educated students will emerge from these prestigious M.A. and PhD programs with not a clue as to what the truth is.

The worst is when these education departments with sister programs at universities abroad actually convince other countries that their successful education systems need to be reformed, such as Japan's, in order that these countries gain more societal individualism that has made the U.S. so successful. (It is always comical when liberals attempt to take credit for our success which has come despite our mediocre school system not because of it.)

The U.S. could also learn from what happens when successful countries with conservative education systems attempt to adopt U.S. style failed practices such as "discovery learning" and "student centered" learning. American "progressives" actually convinced Japan that their education system needed "progressive" techniques, and in 2002 Japan embarked upon a radical overhaul of its system. The result since then has been plummeting international test scores.
In order that countries do not make mistakes such as these, comparative education is a valuable field of study--if only you can escape the dominance of the "social justice" and "progressive" obfuscation that so dominates today's education departments.


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