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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Do Korean students agree with Amanda Ripley about their educational system?

The NY Times has a review today on the front page of the Book Review--and a featured podcast --  of a new book called "Smartest Kids in the World" by New America Foundation fellow Amanda Ripley.  The review was written by another New America Foundation fellow Annie Murphy Paul. While through twitter, Paul says that she disclosed this connection to the NY Times book editors, they went ahead anyway in assigning her the review (and podcast.)
This violation of acceptable journalistic standards should be protested to the NY Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan at
Unsurprisingly, Murphy Paul has written a rave review of a book with a highly questionable thesis: that the South Korean educational system, in which students sleep in class because they have spent so many hours after school in expensive "cram schools" that families spend nearly 20 percent of their disposable income paying for -- and which causes huge stress on kids, is better than the US system because this strenuous competition makes them stronger and more able to succeed in a global economy.

I guess she doesn't  count all those Korean families who choose to uproot themselves and move here to escape the pressures of their educational system.  Or the fact that youth suicide rates are extremely high, attributed largely to academic stress -- so much so that suicide is the leading cause of death for South Koreans age 15-29. Here is an excerpt from Murphy Paul's NYT review:
Ripley is cleareyed [sic] about the serious drawbacks of this system: “In Korea, the hamster wheel created as many problems as it solved.” Still, if she had to choose between “the hamster wheel and the moon bounce that characterized many schools in the United States,” she would reluctantly pick the hamster wheel: “It was relentless and excessive, yes, but it also felt more honest. Kids in hamster-wheel countries knew what it felt like to grapple with complex ideas and think outside their comfort zone; they understood the value of persistence. They knew what it felt like to fail, work harder and do better. They were prepared for the modern world.” Not so American students, who are eased through high school only to discover, too late, that they lack the knowledge and skill to compete in the global economy.
Really?  Is this the best way to be prepare students for the modern world?    
Check out the photographs below of South Korean students, who were asked by Fulbright teaching assistants to comment on their lives. 
And let us know in the comment section below if you agree with Ripley that the South Korean school system is superior to ours. [credit photos:Buzzfeed]. 


Anonymous said...

Heartbreaking photos. No, I don't want the U.S. to follow South Korea's lead.

Anonymous said...

A "fellow" engaged in an observational study over a few short weeks or months is not likely to offer an accurate report of the realities of a different educational system.

It is also journalistic malpractice to depict South Korea's education system solely as a series of photographs.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone writing or commenting on this article actually read the book? Ripley never said the Korean way was better. She said the outcomes are better, but even she questioned if the cost was worth it? She clearly laid (layed?) out in the book the details and facts of the education systems in a few countries, all of whom have greater outcomes and success than the US. What's not to like here? Of course nobody thinks the Korean method is preferable or even makes any sense! :) It's one example of another country's education system.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the author of this article read the book - it looks like this is purely a response to what she thinks the book was about given the review.

He author actually has a lot of negative things to say about the South Korean system similar to what's written here. It's clear from the book that she actually far prefers the Finnish system.

The quote the author of this post refers to is from a hypothetical question posed in the book about whether *if* it were a trade off between happiness and smart kids! which should we choose? It's hardly a recommendation of the Korean system.

Also, just a nit...suicide rates among Korean schoolchildren is lower than in the US. The higher suicide rate is actually among adults, surprisingly, not school kids.