Amanda Ripley’s book is an exciting journey to the world of education in several different countries, along with a general overview of the academic achievements of schoolchildren all over the world. When reading the book, one cannot but wonder about the statistics and data offered by the author. There are many things that confound and inspire the reader, as well as resonate with the audience. The present paper will present an overview of these points and the impressions that I received from reading the book.
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Ripley covers many significant topics in her book, and the issue that most resonates with me is that the amount of money spent on education does not make children smarter (35). It would be wrong to say that the financial aspect of the problem does not matter at all. Schools need equipment and require financial support for security measures. However, in general, I find the opinion that money does not lead “to more learning” correct (Ripley 36).
Another aspect that resonates with me is that “kids are the same in both countries,” and the only difference is the way they have been raised (153). That is, it does not matter how much money one spends on education, but it is important to pay attention to children’s upbringing and give them a good example to follow. This opinion can be illustrated by such cases as Korean children spending very long hours at school (Ripley 88) or Tom’s parents reading very much (Ripley 106). Thus, it becomes clear that showing is better than telling, and money does not play the central role in encouraging a child to study.
One more issue discussed in the book seems rather important: the relationship between students and teachers and among peers. Accounting on her first C, Kim, one of three exchange students that are the author’s “informants,” mentions that she could not ask for help because “her teacher hot angry when children didn’t understand” (Ripley 88). The same character later explains her preference for a virtual school. Kim says that she is frequently asked whether she does not fear being isolated, but she “was very isolated” in her American school “anyway” (Ripley 255). These instances resonate with me because I find it important to change such tendencies. Teachers and classmates should serve as the encouragement for children to attend school and gain knowledge and not as discouragement.
The thing that confounded me most of all was the reaction of different countries to the results of the PISA test. Finns, who scored very high, were modest and rather surprised by the outcomes. Meanwhile, experts from other countries were skeptical and assumed that “there had been some kind of mistake” (Ripley 33).
The same attitude is manifested in the US government’s attempts to attribute low academic achievement to the high rates of poverty. The author mentions that those who believe that America has “a monopoly on trouble” have never been to Poland, referring to what tremendous hardships this country managed to overcome (Ripley 181). Another example to dismiss the myth of America’s childhood poverty and education being connected is Norway, where there is practically no poverty, but results of tests are low (Ripley 23). Thus, I agree with the author that financial stability does not play the most important role in defining children’s academic performance.
After reading the book, my views on the US and international education became broadened and, in some aspects, altered. From the reaction to PISA results, it became obvious that many countries in the world do not find the US system of education an effective one. For instance, it is mentioned that the Germans scored “even worse than the Americans” (Ripley 34). The word “even” emphasizes the level of disappointment: it is obvious that Americans are regarded as so poor in achievements that being worse than them is something humiliating.
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However, I also found out the reasons for such a state of things. The US schools and families lack “the clarity of purpose,” and they are “wasting a lot of time and money” on things that do not matter (Ripley 27, 26). At the same time, despite low parental involvement, expectations are very high (Ripley 60). Thus, the US needs to review its system of values in order to become more successful in the sphere of education.
In her book, Ripley offers interesting insights into international education. What I specifically love about the Finnish approach was that the profession of a teacher is “prestigious, like being a doctor” in the US (Ripley 66). Korean system is very demanding, but it produces profound results. As Ripley mentions, Korean teenagers “spent more time studying than our kids spent awake” (24). Later, this statement is confirmed by Eric, who was an exchange student in South Korea.
Korean parents see themselves as “coaches,” while American parents “act more like cheerleaders” (Ripley 155). In Poland, students’ scores are announced in front of all class, which is shocking for Tom, another exchange student (Ripley 110). Meanwhile, in the US, school officials are trying to protect themselves from being tested by saying that tests “brutalize” and “bully” children (Ripley 257). Finally, US schools pay more attention to sports than other countries’ schools do (Ripley 263). I think that children are fairly dissatisfied with having to do rather complicated things to meet high benchmarks. Overall, educational systems in other countries seem to be more fit to prepare competitive graduates than the US system.
Along with offering much new information, the book contains some issues that are inspiring. Probably the most memorable of these is the story of Kim, whose eagerness to study in Finland was so passionate that she grasped every opportunity to make her dream real (Ripley 64-65, 68). Another inspiring thing in the book is the attitude of Tom’s parents to reading, which serves as a brilliant example for their son (Ripley 106). Probably this is the best approach to encouraging a child to do something: not to say but show by one’s example.
One more memorable moment is when Kim’s teacher or Finnish gave her a simplified version of the book that other children were reading so that the girl could understand what they were discussing (Ripley 122). These stories are truly uplifting, and they make one believe that there is always hope for the future of the educational system if only all of its stakeholders are attentive and conscientious enough.
A moment that concerned me was when Kim was experiencing a “dark phase” of her stay in Finland, and a psychologist was considering her returning home (Ripley 213). Fortunately, this brave girl coped with her problems and continued her exciting academic adventure.
Amanda Ripley’s book may reveal some unpleasant aspects of the US educational system, as well as it may show other countries’ approaches in a light that is too positive. However, the major contribution made by the author’s research is the eradication of stereotyped statements that have been used to disguise the problems existing in the sphere of education. The book is both informative and entertaining, and everyone can learn some lessons from it.
Ripley, Amanda. The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2013.