2.5 What American students think of their educational system
It goes without saying that to get information “straight from the horses mouth” is better than take it from the reference books/ Modern technology and one year stay in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin made it possible to conduct a survey not only among the students of Lyceum 37 but also among the students of Sun Prairie High School.
They were asked only two questions: what they appreciate in American system of education and what they do not approve at all.
Nearly all the questioned believe that the main advantage of the system is its freedom. As Amanda Collier puts it: “The advantages are that you get a choice as to what you are able to take and the freedom to be able to do what you like and/or are good at”. A wide range of extracurricular activities and excellent sports facilities are also mentioned by all the respondents. However some students hold the opinion which contradicts the one. For example, Jaimee Neerland says: “The disadvantages I think are the limitations that some people encounter. Even thought we get to choose what we want to take, there are only so many courses in a day and in my personal case, I had to drop a course that I loved and was good at because there simply wasnt enough room in the schedule”. Besides sometimes classes get filled up and you cant take the class you want.
Even such undoubtable advantages of the American system of education as being free of charge and being aimed at providing equal education for all students (or providing all students with equal educational opportunities) turn out to be debatable. My former co-student Clarisse Tobia says that sometimes their educational system can be expensive: “Sometimes you have to pay for materials in a certain class if you want to take the class. Sometimes school will have you pay for each individual class you are taking.”
In spite of great variety of classes to choose there are not enough advanced classes, too much emphasis is placed on sports and not enough on academics. Carl Peterson says: “Too often we are limited as to what classes we can take, because with some schools they cannot afford certain things that other schools can. Some schools do not even offer honors or AP classes”. As a result high school graduation requirements dont match up with college class entrance requirements “like you might need 3 years of History to graduate but 4 years of History to get into a specific college”.
A couple of my former schoolmates blame their educational system for mediocrity which they believe to be the reverse side of equality. Michal Hartung says: “I feel like this educational system is designed to create a mentally equal population. It suffocates creativity and does not allow for going above and beyond. Because you are forced to take as many as 8 courses at a time you are never able to become great at one subject, just mediocre at all of them. There is simply no need to try to excel in any subject because it is easy to succeed in this system without being truly great”. However the majority think that all schools should offer the same things no matter what. “Every school should be o prep school minus the uniforms”.
There are some more things American high school students are not happy with: too many classes in one day, the time school day starts, and overcrowded classes in big cities.
Nevertheless in general American teenagers seem to be quite content with their educational system and do not want to change it.
Among these few changes they would like to make an introduction or further development of the so-called block scheduling in all schools, more funding for academic things and less for sports, more freedoms with educational careers.
2.6 Alumni Experience
Our research or to be more exact our outlook on the American system of education would be incomplete if we didnt take into account the opinions and conclusions of alumni, the numerous participants of the Russian-American Exchange program Freedom Support Act Future Leaders Exchange. Thanks to perestroika and policy of peaceful co-existence the opportunity to go to the USA and stay there for a year being accommodated in a host family became quite plausible for hundreds of Russian teenagers 15 years ago. Since the geography of the program covers the entire country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast and from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico, the alumnis opinions appear to be pretty objective.
We have questioned 38 alumni who stayed in the USA from 2003 to 2008. In spite of the fact that all of them come from different backgrounds and studied in different schools their points of view proved to be quite similar (nearly the same). Nearly all of them think that one of the biggest advantages of American schools is freedom to choose and ability to make your own schedule.
Another advantage which is mentioned practically by all the alumni is their sport system. Dmitry Dubovic, the alumnus of the year 2007-2008 from Rostov shared his opinion: “I would say that sports is a very important issue in American education and I believe we need to do the same thing here”. Every school has its own teams in different kinds of sports, modern gyms, weight rooms and of course football field. It is great when high school kids are so healthy and fit and determined, and sports also help develop team work which is very important in every area in life.
Another plus (and in this case the opinions of those who study or once studied in American schools and those who have never been there co-inside) is extracurricular activities. Sonia Lomp (2006-2007, Novosibirsk) says: “It is awesome that American schools have such subjects as choir, leadership, drama and stuff that help talented kids and also keep them busy with their hobbies”.
We have already mentioned that the respondents (participants of the survey) have a very vague idea of maintaining discipline in American schools. As for alumni they find it strict enough, sometimes even too strict. There is no way you can skip your classes, or get in a fight at school, or even be late without being punished. Luba Romanova (2005-2006, Novgorod) complains about too much control, corridor passes, sending your grades to parents, calling home if you miss any class. Alina Berdiaeva (2007-2008, Omsk) recollects: “There is no such thing like “may I turn in this paper tomorrow instead of today”. There is no tomorrow. There is discipline. That makes students respect the teachers.” At the same time Ksenia Lenshina (2006-2007, Samara) and other alumni find the school atmosphere more informal, it provides more confidence: the teacher will never yell your grade out, no matter if it is good or bad.
Among other good points are the teachers possibilities to use modern technologies, sitting alone at the desk, having study halls to do your homework, an ability to work in groups.
As for such possibilities as the Internet at school or having access to all sources of information they are available to Russian students even in the most distant regions of the country.
As far as the disadvantages of American system of education are concerned nearly all the alumni we have questioned name a low level of knowledge schools give their student, especially in math. For example Evgenia Bogatova (2005-2006, Volgograd) was shocked when she saw juniors and seniors having troubles solving quadratic equations and identities.
Another minus is related more to the mentality or national set of mind rather than to the system of education. Many citizens of the USA admit that America is mostly concerned with America. Young people put it in a more rigorous way. Nastia Peshina (2004-2005, Ekaterinburg) says: “The bad part that Americans are crazy about the USA and pretty much dont know tons of stuff about the world. I would add Geography at least one required year.” She is echoed by Ekaterina Kononova (2007-2008, Saratov): “A very big part of Americans dont care about what goes around somewhere farther than their own American nose. So negative but it is true. I seriously like their motto: “There is the US, and there is the rest of the world”. You can see it pretty often in their foreign policy. But again it is a national part of their character. But the educational system could change it…”
Among other disadvantages the alumni mention are low level of teaching foreign languages, 12 grades which some of them think to be too long.
The point which is viewed by some alumni as a plus and by others as a minus is that in every class you meet new students. On the one hand it helps you to meet a lot of new people, but on the other hand it doesnt give you a chance to feel as part of the group as the result students meet each other at school every day, but sometimes they dont even know each others name. “They dont become friends because every 45 minutes in school you are going to class with different people and there is nothing that can unite you all together.”
In conclusion we can say that the main goal of our research, to examine the system of secondary education from the inside and outside, seems to be achieved. We have made a brief outline of American school from the point of view of those who are within the system, the onlookers and exchange programs participants, who are able to compare and contrast.
It goes without