Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features discussions on education, learning and teaching, and language with particular focus on English. The primary subjects to be taken up here are notable advocacies and contrary viewpoints in these disciplines and their allied fields. Our primary aim is to clarify matters and issues of importance to language and learning, provide intelligent and useful instruction, promote rational and critical thinking, and enhance the individual’s overall capacity for discernment.

The open secret of the smartest kids in the whole world today

In her new book on education, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (Simon & Schuster, 306 pages), American journalist Amanda Ripley reports that while U.S. students have in recent years been putting in a consistently mediocre performance in international tests for critical thinking skills in math, science, and reading, their counterparts in Finland, South Korea, Poland, and a handful of other countries have been remarkably outpacing them in their test scores for those skills.

Smartest Kids in the World

Ripley’s cross-cultural research for the book has established that Finland, South Korea, and Poland have a common educational formula: well-trained teachers, a rigorous curriculum, and a challenging exam required of all graduating seniors. In Finland, in particular, the educational system ensures high-quality teaching from the very beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher-training programs that are far more demanding than such programs in America.

As a result, Ripley says that something incredible has been happening in those three countries: “Virtually all kids were learning critical thinking skills in math, science, and reading. They weren’t just memorizing facts; they were learning to solve problems and adapt. That is to say, they were training to survive in the modern economy.”

In contrast, Ripley observes that although American kids are economically better off, on average, than the typical child in Japan, New Zealand, or South Korea, these American kids know far less math than those children. She adds: “Our most privileged teenagers had highly educated parents and attended the richest schools in the world, yet they ranked eighteenth in math compared to their privileged peers around the world, scoring well below affluent kids in New Zealand, Belgium, France, and Korea, among other places.”

Ripley argues that this state of affairs is a clear indication that the United States has been wasting a lot of time and money on things that didn’t matter in education: “Our schools and families seemed confused, more than anything else, lacking the clarity of purpose I saw in Finland, Korea, and Poland. Yet I also didn’t see anything anywhere that I didn’t think our parents, kids, and teachers could do just as well or better one day.”

Read the prologue to Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World now!

Read Annie Murphy Paul’s “Likely to Succeed,” a review of Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World, in The New York Times now!

Watch “How world’s smartest kids got that way,” a video that shows Amanda Ripley getting briefed by the four exchange students who served as “field agents” for her book

Amanda Ripley is a literary journalist whose stories on human behavior and public policy have appeared in Time, The Atlantic, and Slate and helped Time win two National Magazine Awards. To discuss her work, she has appeared on ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX News, and NPR. Ripley’s first book, The Unthinkable, was published in 15 countries and was made into a PBS documentary.

In “Welcome to the Age of Denial,” an article that came out in the August 21, 2013 issue of The New York Times, op-ed contributor Adam Frank says that as a graduate student in 1989, he dreamed of becoming an astrophysics professor who can introduce a new generation of students to the powerful yet delicate craft of scientific research. He says that much of that dream has come true, but he is disappointed to be delivering his expertise into a society that’s ambivalent, even skeptical, about the fruits of science—a society where even more people than before believe that God had created human beings in their present form, and where even fewer people than before believe that climate change is a real problem.

Read Adam Frank’s “Welcome to the Age of Denial” in The New York Times now!

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