There is no free lunch – The American Education Paradox

Fair Warning: This has been on my mind for a long time, and it’s not meant to demean or offend anyone. If you easily take offense to this topic, don’t read my rant. Otherwise, continue on…
Personal rant:
My parents always told me, “There is no free lunch.”
I wrote about American education back in college for a personal writing exam. The question asked why American education(K-12) is one of the most well funded projects in the world, yet international test scores show that Americans are closer to lower tiers when it comes to testing. If so, how would you approach this problem and what would be one of the solutions.


This is where I pick up on my cultural background. In my parents’ age, Asian graduate students would only be allowed visas if they were the cream of the crop. So the stereotype of hardworking, studious types were all true since the people coming over were the top students. This in addition to the cultural motivation of educating yourself in a practical application proved to be the backbone of American stereotypes of Asians. Yes, my daddy was special and I’m damn proud of it.
When I went to grade school, I was nicknamed “Whiz” short for Wizard. This was given to me after I did some long division on paper quicker than the teacher punching it into a calculator. Nothing to it really, since my parents made me do mathematic problems over the summer during the mornings. Eventually, I got accepted into gifted programs and went on to do the usual honors, and AP and the like.
So what made me any better at math than the rest of my friends? The drive by my culture for practical environments. Uniformity. I questioned my mother about this and I received the answer that: “Americans don’t do enough homework.” And I thought I had it rough. She explained that typical high school students in Taiwan (in her time) would be in class from 8-5, and do homework until 11-12 consistently.
This brings me back to the topic, what’s wrong with schools here? Emphasis on recess instead of studies. Emphasis on individualism instead of promoting educational well-being. Year-round schooling would improve studies drastically in my opinion. The world runs on a 24×7 clock, with no stopping. Why would schooling be any different? The other is the division of testing. The most major test I ever took were my SATs. My parents took equivalents to get from grade school to middle school, from middle school to high school, and so on.
So why do we have low test scores still in the United States? The push for education is different here. I still believe that “No Child Left Behind” is a crock. You drag down the brightest kids so that the whole class is as educationally-challenged as the one on the bottom of the barrel. Figures that this comes from a President that was the governor of a state that ranks on the bottom of the educational scale.
Locally, I’ve seen some very interesting achievements. Weaver Academy probably has some of the brightest kids that I’ve seen in a long time. Unfortunately, the push still hasn’t changed, and it’s still the same ol’ thing. Perhaps from here, we can strive for other goals that help the kids achieve bigger and better things. I am envious that Weaver kids get to take classes that are way better than anything I ever had for computer classes (and I went to one of the top public schools in Washington State). There also needs to be more applicable and hands-on activities that will drive students to learn (similar process at Weaver) formalized in all types of classrooms. For example, Spanish class can go work with Hispanic community efforts, or home economics can cook meals for Urban Ministries, etc.
How can we change the perspective? Do stress activities to help SAT scores. Basic mathematic skills is not difficult to achieve. English is a bit more long term, but with practice, correct grammar and spelling can also be added to the arsenal. Quit stressing individualistic tutoring, and have the kids push themselves. If they struggle and can’t swim with the rest of the fish, then they should find help on their own to help them keep up. This isn’t a job for the teachers, nor should it be. If you want to better yourself, spend the effort and time to do so. If not, then don’t be crying and complaining when you drop out of high school and can’t land anything else besides minimum wage.
Like my parents always said, “There is no free lunch.”
End rant.

  • The problem arises in that kids can’t be expected to push themselves, and American parents are, generally, awful as parents. It’s my opinion that no matter how much money we throw at it, kids are not going to get smarter. They will not do better in school. It has to start with the parents. There has to be a strong intellectual foundation.
    I do have to disagree, though, that one needs more homework. In my experience, homework is nearly useless. It checks what you already know, and giving more to kids is just a fantastic way to stress them out. It does not teach new abilities. It hardly reinforces old. There’s no reason kids should work longer hours than adults.

  • The problem arises in that kids can’t be expected to push themselves, and American parents are, generally, awful as parents. It’s my opinion that no matter how much money we throw at it, kids are not going to get smarter. They will not do better in school. It has to start with the parents. There has to be a strong intellectual foundation.
    I do have to disagree, though, that one needs more homework. In my experience, homework is nearly useless. It checks what you already know, and giving more to kids is just a fantastic way to stress them out. It does not teach new abilities. It hardly reinforces old. There’s no reason kids should work longer hours than adults.

  • I agree. Parenting is one of the keys. I don’t believe that it has anything to do with the kids being smart or not. Give me a break, I don’t see myself as “smart” by any means. Just different types of reinforcement. For instance, I didn’t get paid for “As” like some of my friends. It was just expected.
    As far as homework is concerned, there is a reason why there should be a need to do more. As a kid, my parents bought study guides (basically just books with problems) for me to do. In similar fashion, kids need to do that if they ever want to get good at mathematics. You could stress “learning” how the concept works, but you have to realize that in college, there is no “learning”. You regurgitate as fast as you can to get to the next part. If you’re not familiar with this, then you’re in for a surprise if you take any mathematics or science course in college.
    Perhaps it can be viewed that the homework is prep for just knowing how to regurgitate information. Good for law degrees I’m sure.
    One last thing. Growing up, my parents always told me, if you spent more time on homework as a kid, you’d spend less time on working as an adult. For the most part, it’s paid off and has been true (yes I know technological sector is sucking wind right now).
    Again, different cultures, different times, but in all views and cases, Americans (me included of course since I am one) are still behind in the big picture of K-12. Secondary education is a whole other ballgame.

  • I agree. Parenting is one of the keys. I don’t believe that it has anything to do with the kids being smart or not. Give me a break, I don’t see myself as “smart” by any means. Just different types of reinforcement. For instance, I didn’t get paid for “As” like some of my friends. It was just expected.
    As far as homework is concerned, there is a reason why there should be a need to do more. As a kid, my parents bought study guides (basically just books with problems) for me to do. In similar fashion, kids need to do that if they ever want to get good at mathematics. You could stress “learning” how the concept works, but you have to realize that in college, there is no “learning”. You regurgitate as fast as you can to get to the next part. If you’re not familiar with this, then you’re in for a surprise if you take any mathematics or science course in college.
    Perhaps it can be viewed that the homework is prep for just knowing how to regurgitate information. Good for law degrees I’m sure.
    One last thing. Growing up, my parents always told me, if you spent more time on homework as a kid, you’d spend less time on working as an adult. For the most part, it’s paid off and has been true (yes I know technological sector is sucking wind right now).
    Again, different cultures, different times, but in all views and cases, Americans (me included of course since I am one) are still behind in the big picture of K-12. Secondary education is a whole other ballgame.