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Cassandra Whitman

English 220
Maya Alapin
April 30, 2014
Education Manifesto: Moving on up
The United States of America is known as the land of the free, home of the brave, and the
land of equality and opportunity. In todays world the key to our success, quality education, is
limited to a good part of Americans. We have an incredible amount of resources, but we are
leaving the kids of today behind in the dust. Plato said the following in The Allegory of the Cave:
But our argument indicates that the power of learning inheres in everyones soul. Its as if we
couldnt turn our eye from the dark to the bright without turning our whole body around; so here
we must turn the whole soul and its organ of learning away from becoming until it faces being
and can endure contemplating the brightest of what is. We call that good, dont we? (Plato).
Here he is saying that we cannot go about education half-heartedly. We need to fully apply our
entire being into educating others, and I agree. This is why we need to reform our way of
thinking of what education should be. Bill Clinton had a great idea at the Aspen Institutes Ideas
festival in 2008: Let us look at the top twenty schools in the country, see what makes them so
successful and apply it to all of the other schools in America. Why not take it a step further?
Look at the top 20 schools in the world and apply their systems here at home. In this manifesto, I
will talk about a few education points from the top countries with the worlds leading education
systems that we do not have at home. The kids and young adults of America deserve a quality
education through quality teaching, teachers, teaching supplies, and free of any charge just like
the other educational giants.
Generally, I am satisfied with the education I have received. I had qualified teachers and
decent supplies throughout high school. The textbooks were relatively new, the classrooms were
clean and organized, and the teachers expressed real interest in both the subjects and their
students. College is now a different story; teachers do not care if students attend class or not, or if
they pass the class. Some teachers seem clueless on how to teach a class and on the subject they
are teaching. The textbooks are in short supply, not to mention that they cost a fortune, deterring
some students from even investing in them. College is expensive, stressful, and honestly
sometimes I wonder if its worth my time. However, I know that I need a college degree if I want
to survive in this world and to make a decent living later on. So why not make the experience
Going to school should not only be educational but motivating and thrilling. Kids should
feel like they are learning something. They should have new textbooks, fast computers, extra
pencils/ notebooks, and free lunches. Even if home life isnt good, if their parents are poor,
schooling should be a rich experience. There should be extra supplies for those who cant afford
it and free lunches for those who cannot buy it. College should be a similar experience. The costs
of attending a university are daunting to many people, and sometimes they dont receive enough
financial aid to help. I want kids to learn without the stress of financial situations. As opposed to
the USA, Finlands education system is not determined by ones socioeconomic level. A student
will get the same quality education anywhere he goes in the country. That should be the case
here as well.
Lets apply Clintons big idea and look at the most recent Programme for International
Student Assessment (PISA) taken in 2012. This assessment is provided to the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, in which nearly half a million
fifteen year olds from around the globe participated. It measures and records how well kids from
different countries scored in basic subjects like reading, math, and science. We are below
average in math and about average in science and reading; overall, we scored 36 out of 65
countries participating. I dont know about you but I am not happy with this. As a leading world
economic power, we should be doing a lot better with our education system. Why not ask
ourselves what the top twenty countries on the chart do that we do not?
On the top of the list is Shanghai, China. After doing a bit of research, one thing that I
found interesting was that they share teachers with other schools. Under this scheme, top
performing schools are assigned a weak school to administer. The good school will send a
team of teachers and a principal to lead the school and improve it, (Singmaster). This is such an
amazing idea! If we followed Shanghais example, children around the country would receive
the same quality education as every other student. For example, a struggling classroom in rural
Oklahoma could receive the same quality of education as a prestigious school from New York
City. No longer would parents feel remorse for not being able to send their kids to a better
performing school when the schooling comes to you!
Second on the list is Singapore. They are starting a new approach to learning. They are
leaving the class rooms and going outside to interact with nature! In one activity, I can cover
three topics, (Lim) says science teacher Lin Lixun a teacher for nine to ten year olds. Teachers
in Singapore are pushing for more what they call learning journeys so that children can interact
with nature and get outside of the classroom more. I remember doing the exact same thing when
I was in elementary school. My science class would take small excursions to the neighboring
botanical garden when we were learning about plants. Not only did we get to see and interact
with the plants but it also got restless children out of the classroom to enjoy some fresh air. Not
only would this help children learn on a visual and kinesthetic level, but it may help teachers
with kids who cannot sit still for a very long time. I realize that not every school in America,
especially those in the cities, has a park or garden they can easily walk to. When small kids are
involved, it can also be potentially dangerous, but I believe that teachers should utilize what
outdoor space they have. Taking the kids out into the fresh air on the playground, when learning
about the clouds or plants, gets them out of the stuffy classroom and lets them enjoy learning on
a different level. Stretching your legs may take some of the unspent energy from the restless
student and at the same time invigorate the teacher.
Switzerland offers its students apprenticeships after what they call elementary school.
Elementary school starts at seven years old and lasts about nine years. Afterwards, kids find
apprenticeships which can be to a variety of jobs such as an office job or a bakery.
Apprenticeships last two years then the young adults may choose to go to university, technical
school, or start their jobs right away. During the duration of the apprenticeship, the kids will
finish up their schooling by attending classes one or two nights a week. Sometimes the job they
are apprenticing offers additional classes. The Swiss education system not only provides
education but an opening into the job market! Apprenticeships provide hands on experience in
the real world with many different options of businesses to choose from. Students are provided
the opportunity to test the waters of any future career that they may be interested in. Here in the
USA, our schools do not provide such an opportunity. Here we get part time jobs in an industry
we may not be looking for in a career choice. In Switzerland one can try an apprenticeship as a
possible career choice, gain real world experience, and decide if they wish to pursue the career.
If they change their minds about the career, they can go to college for something else. There is
no time lost. Here in America we usually have to gain a degree in a field, apply for the job, than
decide if we want to stay with it as a career choice. If we discover that the job is not for us, we
can spend another two or more years and thousands of dollars earning another degree.
The last country I will compare our education system too is Finland. There are many
things to points that are worthy comparisons but I will just name a couple. First off, every
teacher in Finland has a masters degree in teaching. Every school in Finland hires their teachers
from the exact same group as the town next door. Every teacher has the exact same qualifications
as their peers. This ensures that every child in the country has the same quality of education as
everyone else. Secondly, Finnish schools do not believe in standardized testing. There are only
two such tests: one is a district wide exam in which individual teachers may choose to participate
in, and the second is administered at the end of the senior year of high school. Equality among
students is very important in Finland. They do not believe in comparing one child or district to
the next. Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts, Louhivuori teased, as he
rummaged through his closet looking for past years results. Looks like we did better than
average two years ago, he said after he found the reports. Its nonsense. We know much more
about the children than these tests can tell us (Hancock). I agree with this statement. Teachers
should know students on a personal level, rather than seeing them as a score number on a
standardized test. Standardized tests categorize kids into groups ranging from Harvard material
to McDonalds material. Standardized testing takes away from the idea that individuals learn
in their own way at their own pace. This kind of testing puts learning into black and white
categories. Finnish teachers understand that there is a grey area and accommodate students
according to their needs. Finland is obviously doing something right. Ninety-three percent of
Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the
United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union.
Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States (Hancock).
Although our education system could be better, there are a few things that we do that is
worthwhile. For instance, programs to help those in need such as No Child Left Behind and the
ability to finish your education online are amazing. We also have a vast majority of teachers who
actually do care about their students and encourage them to do better not only in school but in
life. We are pushing for healthier foods to be served in the cafeterias and vending machines. We
provide sports and other activities for students to be involved in from elementary through
college. We offer scholarships to those who really need it. Nor do we discriminate the right for
education to minorities or those of a different sex or sexual orientation. We also do our best to
keep our children safe while in school.
Everything that I have pointed out is what I hope will happen for our future generations
to come. I hope that our education reform starts now and that for once it will be about our kids
and not about politics. As Bill Clinton said at the Ideas Festival We've turned this into
something it's not. We have stubbornly refused to replicate excellence in American education,
and we have paid one hell of a high price for it,(Clinton). We can better ourselves while still
providing all of the accommodations we already have in place. I wish for reform so my future
children and grandchildren have one of the best educations in the world. By following the
example of other countries, I believe it is possible. As Plato said, Then, I said, education
would be the art of turning this organ around in the easiest, most effective way- not of implanting
sight, which it already has, but of contriving to turn the organ around to look where it should.

Works Cited
1. Plato. The Republic Plato. Ed. Raymond Larson. Trans. Raymond Larson. Harlan:
Davidson Incorporated, 1979.Print.
2. Singmaster, Heather. "Shanghai: The World's Best School System." AsiaSociety.
AsiaSociety, 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2014
3. Lim, Rebecca. "Singapore Schools 'cut the Cramming'" BBC News. BBC, 22 May 2012.
Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
4. Ambuhler, Reto. "Information about Education in Switzerland." Information about
Switzerland. TRAMsoft GmbH, 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
5. Hancock, LynNell. "Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?" SMITHSONIAN
MAGAZINE. N.p., Sept. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.
6. A Conversation with Pres. William J. Clinton (2 of 6), 2008. The Aspin Institute.
YouTube. 7 July 2008. Web.