American policy has generally worked from the assumption that the problem lies in basic weaknesses in the structure of our educational system with its inherent inequalities and the way in which our school curricula are constructed. These certainly have contributed to comparatively weak scores. I have long been convinced that one of the reasons Japan’s educational system is better than the U.S.—at least in the sense that a very broad swath of the general public receives a good and equal education through high school—is related to funding. The U.S. system generates inherent inequalities in school funding by depending upon property taxes. Even in states where there is some (usually grudging) redistribution of wealth to support public schools in poor areas (in Texas it is called the Robin Hood law), it is obvious that children in wealthy areas receive a better education with far greater academic and other resources than those in poorer areas. In Japan, because there is a national curriculum and a significant portion of the funding for public schools comes from the national government, in addition to funding from prefectural and municipal governments, there is considerably less inequality in distribution of and access to quality education than in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the troubles with the U.S. education system are much deeper than distribution of funding or curriculum weaknesses, although these are both a byproduct of the cultural issue that Asimov observes. The troubles lie in the cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has been a long-standing part of American society and which has become increasingly evident and powerful in recent years through the propagandizing and proselytizing of groups like the Tea Party and the religious right.
The fundamental reason that countries in places like East Asia present such a significant challenge to the U.S. politically and economically is not because they have a lot of people or big militaries, or seem to be willing to grow their economic and political might without concern for issues like damage to the environment (China). The problem is that these countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. I have never run across the type of suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.
In addition, we do not see in Japan significant numbers of the types of religious schools that are designed to shield children from knowledge about basic tenets of science and accepted understandings of history—such as evolutionary theory or the religious views of the Founding Fathers, who were largely deists—which are essential to having a fundamental understanding of the world. The reason for this is because in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy.
Um, they would never let a female TSA agent pat down a man, ever. The TSA is some bullshit but that is a cartoonized jab.
Reblogging because I’m somewhat a connoisseur of the airport pat down; I have an artificial hip and have been borderline assaulted in 16 countries! FYI, nicest place for a pat down, hands down, is Brazil; they’re super friendly and apologetic.
Which is funny, because my great-great grandmother was a Cherokee, and she loved soccer…
I defy you to not read this story.
(BBC News, "Pablo Escobar’s Hippos—A Growing Problem")
taxes, regulation, government, institutions themselves as merely a momentary impediment, “middlemen” heavy and solid with history to be inevitably washed away by the fast, fluid efficiency of “high tech”
Oh, DO WE.
Actually we are not quite sure where to start, because you are mining a very, very rich vein here! But here are a few absolute favorites:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore: Katsa lives in a world where some people are “graced” — they have mismatched eyes and special talents. Katsa’s incredible skill for killing makes her a useful tool for a corrupt king, but everything changes when she meets a prince whose fighting skills are almost as good as her own. Graceling is the first of three linked books; we love Bitterblue most of all, but you should definitely start at the beginning.
Sabriel by Garth Nix: Sabriel has been raised just across the wall from a magical kingdom, in which her father is the Abhorsen, whose job it is to control the dead. When something terrible happens to the Abhorsen, his tools fall to Sabriel, who must cross into the Old Kingdom and learn to use a necromancer’s bells to keep a nasty spirit at bay. That sounds like a lot of death, sure, but these books — three are out now, with Clariel due out this fall — are beautiful and gripping. (And there is a magical cat.)
Chime by Franny Billingsley: Molly’s sleeper YA favorite is about a girl named Briony who is certain she’s a witch. She knows it’s her fault her stepmother died, and her fault her sister’s mind is damaged, and she’s just waiting for the knife to fall. Set in a swampy, pre-industrial world, Chime is mythic and gorgeous and mostly about the damage we can do by telling ourselves the wrong stories. (It might make you cry. Fair warning.)
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: Seraphina is a court musician in a world where dragons exist alongside humans — and can appear as humans (though they have to wear bells to indicate that they are dragons in human form). When a member of the royal family dies under suspicious circumstances, Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, where of course she uncovers all kinds of fascinating secrets, including a big one about herself. One of the best dragon books of, well, ever.
Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo: Lo’s Ash is a lovely Cinderella retelling in which it is not the prince our heroine falls for, and the fairies are not exactly the godmother sort. Huntress takes place in the same world, but years earlier, when the human and fairy world are both out of alignment, and only an unlikely pair of young sages-in-training can put things back to rights.
The Books of Bayern series by Shannon Hale starts with a rewrite of the fable of the goose girl (The Goose Girl) and then launches into a whole world of adventures from there filled with magic, hard choices, politics, and good friends.
And last but not least, you’ll want the ass-kicking ladies of A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray to be your new best friends. They may be living in a pseudo-Victorian society, but that’s not going to stop Gemma Doyle and her classmates from learning to use their powers and take control of their destiny — whatever it turns out to be.
Perfect summary for Chime. I always have a hard time putting into words why I love it.
To my shame I’ve only read half of these. Sabriel and the Books of Bayern are fantastic though—I think you’d like the Bayern Books Simini, though I was always disappointed that the last book of the series (at least that I read) was only published with a photo-manip cover instead of the lovely little illustrated covers the others had) Sabriel and all that is pretty dark, but the character moments are pretty great and Mogget is the most fantastically precious and terrifying creature you will ever read…
Oh I’ve totally read the Bayern books. They’re great! And Sabriel a long long time ago. I should probably read it again sat some point- I remember nothing but bells and something to do with necromancy…
Reblogging because His Dark Materials is fantastic, and should be included here.