Thursday, April 28, 2005


Why is it that, whenever you move somewhere new, you're always comparing it to other places where you've lived? While in England, I find myself constantly saying "this is worse than in America" or "this is better than in America," and I sometimes get on my own nerves with it. Why can't I just appreciate a place for what it is? But since I'm doing all this comparing, I might as well let the cat out of the bag about my opinions of the US vs. UK education systems.

When we flew back last Thursday, there was a 17 year old girl in front of us from the UK who'd been attending high school in the US for quite a while. The lady beside her, an American, asked, "Which system is harder?". I was surprised when she said that the US was. It required her to know more about more things and she had to attend school for an extra year. But, before you Americans get puffed up, I suspect that she was on a non-college track. They are big proponents over here of tracking and in continental Europe, so at an early age students are placed in various ability level groups. Most of the students over here do not go to college (they'd say university). I was told that the percentage is now 40%, as opposed to around 33% just a few years ago. If the girl on the plane had been on a more difficult track in the UK, I suspect she would say that the American system was easier. In America, schools tend to do very little tracking and a higher percentage of students enroll in college courses (the last I saw was around 65% -- this article says it was 63% in 2002).

I have a difficult time comparing the US and UK systems at the university level. The students who do attend here are better prepared and thus require less remediation than the average American students. However, students here only attend three years for an undergraduate degree and have shorter school terms. And I'm still puzzled by this summer term of no (new) classes... classes do meet for half the term to review old material for finals in June. My guess is that the average American college grad might come out a little ahead of the average Brit, but I have no data on which to base this. Its like comparing apples and limes (sorry).

Since I'm picking on my British friends again, I'll note two further things I noticed:
1. We were watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (original British version) the other day and a man had the question, "In Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', who was Tiny Tim's father. He knew the answer was Bob Cratchit, but the funny part is why he knew it. It wasn't because he'd read one of the most influential English writers of the Victorian era, but because he remembered it from 'A Muppet Christmas Carol'. How's that for some reverse influence! Creeping Amerinization indeed!

2. I caught a few minutes of a special on the women who brought about modern country music. Of course, Loretta Lynn was included... all the stuff about growing up in the coalmining parts of Kentucky. When they got to Dolly Parton, they said that she was from the same area of Kentucky. Now, anybody worth his spit knows that Dolly is from Tennessee. The funny thing was how they then went ahead to explain all about her building Dollywood in her hometown in Tennessee.


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