US Education

Anj Petto (ajpetto@MACC.WISC.EDU)
Wed, 13 Apr 1994 18:11:46 -0600

A second to Steve Swidler's observations on US/Japan comparisons. In
addition, our involvement in educational reform issues here in Wisconsin
(and formerly in Massachusetts) indicates something further. It is *not*
that the schools are not working. They are doing precisely what they were
designed to do -- to prepare people for economic, political, and social
life of the 1950s. Steve is right; the Cold War is over, the world has
gotten complex, and the schools still lack serious programs in critical and
creative thinking and complex problem-finding and problem solving.

In addition, Japan's (and much of Europe's) education system is apples to
our oranges. What WE mean by universal access to education and what these
systems mean are two different things -- as different as Clinton's and
Dole's and Pell's and Canada's versions of "universal" coverage in health
care. We have the "world's best health care system" for those who can get
access to it (e.g. afford it), and theoretically everyone has the
*opportunity* to participate -- all you need is a job with benefits or a
lot of money. But a large number of people do not *get* the best of the
system when they need health care.

The same is true for education in Japan (and Germany, for another). Only
the select few get to take advantage of this "excellence" in the system.
Most receive quite a bit less than the very best. Large numbers of
students are excluded from a wide variety of professional, managerial, and
academic careers as early as grades 5-6 on the basis of comprehensive exams
and grades. A recent Newsweek story reported that Japanese high school
students are reporting severe stress over these requirements and committing
suicide at rates high even for adolescents -- all out of fear of being
forced into a life of putting wheels on Hondas in a factory for the rest of
their lives on the basis of a few test scores.

Finally, Japan is (officially at least) a lot more homogeneous (and
smaller) society to deal with. Multicultural education is not an issue in

Despite the numerous problems with US education (see above for a short
list), I doubt that the solutions in Japan are the way we need or want to


Andrew J. Petto, PhD
Associate Director
Center for Biology Education
660 WARF
University of Wisconsin

Voice: 608.263-0478
Fax: 608.262-0014