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Thinking about Yutori Education: Japan, Taiwan, and the U.S. - 3

Another friend of mine, who is American and a former teacher in the U.S., wrote the following essay about the history of the educational system in the U.S. and her own experiences. (Kishi)


I taught in elementary schools during the years of 1963 to 2003. In the period of the 1980's, teachers began using more "hands on" experiences with their students. In other words, for math, they used physical objects, called "manipulatives". In science, rather than merely reading about a topic, the students did experiments in order to understand the scientific concepts. Later in the 1980's teachers began to create units of study that included all subjects in one unit. For example, the topic might be "Rocks". The students would learn about rocks in science, they could measure and compare rocks for a math project, they could make a musical sound piece by banging different kinds of rocks together, they could create a dance which show how rocks changed and grew, they could use rocks as parts of art projects. One term to describe this kind of teaching might be "holistic teaching". Students had opportunities to explore many creative aspects of various topics. Their own creativity was encouraged.

In 2001, President Bush led a movement and passed the "No Child Left Behind" Act. This legislation, which was passed by Congress, stresses the testing of every child. If standards are not met, the school could be in danger of losing funding from the government. Since this bill was passed, the teachers have had to move away from creative teaching. Instead, they work with students in helping them to pass the tests. Learning has become more boring for the students and it is not enjoyable for the teachers, either. The teaching materials have become standardized. Teachers are expected to follow certain teaching guides. Their own creativity and the students' creativity are not utilized. In my opinion, all the joy has gone out of learning, because of this.

Additionally, I heard many teachers say that it is impossible to have "no child left behind". There are some students who are very slow learners and many students who, for a variety of reasons, cannot keep up with their classmates. A great deal of time and money is being spent to help the lowest students achieve better test scores. Many teachers regret this approach because it seems that a lot of effort is being made with very little results to show for it. In the past, teachers used to give their best efforts toward teaching the lower students, but it was felt that the lowest students would do the best they could. Ultimately, they would not be going to college. Their abilities would be found in other directions, not academic achievement. Now it seems that teachers are being asked to do the impossible: to turn very low achievers into academic geniuses.

Finally, the American system of public education is egalitarian, from kindergarten through high school. In other words, all of our students are in the same classes and the same school. In high school, however, it is true that advanced students may take advanced classes. But, it is sometimes difficult for American educators to rank their students against students in other countries, especially if the other countries have different schools for academic students and for learning about trades.

(Elizabeth Rexford taught general music in elementary schools in Michigan and Illinois for 38 years. She retired in June, 2003.)

Next time, in the closing essay, I will discuss the current and future directions for educational reformation in Japan, based on the perspectives and experiences shared by my friends as well as some other reference. (Kishi)
(To be continued)
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