By Whitney White, a former and brilliant AP Language and Composition student.
As opposed to common belief, the grass isn’t, in fact, always green on the other side of the fence. This, as I’ve found, is especially true when it comes to education. As a self-proclaimed ‘europhile,’ I was ecstatic to spend a semester studying abroad in Spain. Surely, I thought their educational system would be superior to the American one I was familiar with. As it turned out when it comes to public education, superior and inferior do not exist, there are only differences and similarities.
An ideal education is a difficult thing to grasp. Despite our progress, modern society still struggles to provide or define the ideal education. Education is personal, it’s like faith, we may have some common underlying beliefs that connect us, but there are large parts that are personal and diverse. From my experience, I realize this issue is relevant worldwide. In the U.S. as well as in Spain, it seems the greatest problem schools face are the growing size of classrooms. Teachers are simply unable to give students their undivided attention; a one-on -one approach as Ralph Waldo Emerson describes in his essay “On Education.” Since the ideal educational system is unattainable, people must accept that there are various methods of teaching and none are perfect.
U.S. teachers value understanding. If students have questions, they are answered. If students seek additional help, they receive it. Most importantly, the work students do is meaningful, and students know what that meaning is. In Spain, this is not the case. Spanish teachers tend to be very vague when in comes to assignments and answering questions. Even though I was a foreign student, I did not receive any extra help with my school work. Questions were rarely asked or answered. Furthermore, the work we did was just busy work. Kyoko Mori describes a similar experience in her essay “School,” comparing her Japanese and American educational experiences, “No matter what the subject, our teachers never gave us clear advice about how to do better…none of my teachers spent extra time with me to go over what I was doing wrong.” As in Japan, Spanish schools don’t place value on truly learning new concepts. If a student knows the information already, they advance. If not, they remain behind. In these ways, I came to really appreciate the American school system.
When it comes to comparisons between effective teaching methods, the default tends to fall to test scores. According to a study conducted by Stanford, Harvard, and Munich Universities, the US and Spain have the same percentage of advanced math students. After my experience, I can be sure that one receives a better math education in the U.S. than in Spain. The study also shows that Japanese students outrank Americans by 10%. According to Mori, however, the Japanese education is much less effective to that of the U.S. When it comes down to it, international educational systems simply cannot compare with test scores.
Spending a semester abroad opened my eyes to the world of education Foreign trends in education are varied and nearly impossible to compare. If a true education is what one seeks, it would be fruitless to look around at other nations. If anything, it would best to heed Emerson’s advice, “Always genius seeks genius, desires nothing so much as to be a pupil and to find those who can lend it aid to perfect itself.” In other words, take control of your knowledge and seek out the masters that can influence and ignite your passions further.