Having spent about three years in the Taiwanese public education system (and having Asian parents), I often compare education systems between America and Taiwan. No public education system is perfect, of course, but one particular thing stood out to me. It’s the attitude for failure, and when to encourage students.
Growing up in my family, I am rewarded only if something I did was truly exceptional. No extra allowance for earning an ‘A’ (As good grades are the norm and what was expected of me), and when I failed, my parents didn’t tell me “it’s okay, sweetie, you tried”–they tell me to try harder. Bottom line? My parents expected nothing less than perfect of me. Not “my best,” but “the best.” They have never sugar coated the truth. When I was little, I had to work on my penmenship. If my mother did not like my work, she erased it all and I had to try again. If she was not satisfied with something I did, she tells me to redo it, go back to square one, and make sure it’s perfect the second time around. This concept has served me well. I am ahead of my classmates, and I settle for nothing BUT the best.
I found that American education was almost entirely the opposite. Teachers were forgiving (“here’s a generous curve on this easy test because 60% of the class failed” or “three day extension on this assignment because I guess you all are behind!!”)–not that I’m complaining about that, but this would definitely be the biggest difference between the two education systems. It’s nice to have a sort of a “break” from constant working and worrying, but I feel that sometimes because of this mindset, teachers are giving students a sense of a distorted reality (ex, saying that something is great when it actually isn’t) and not preparing them for the real world.
Example: today in orchestra class, I was well prepared, of course, (as I always am), and the music wasn’t too terribly hard. The second violins, however, were struggling with a particular sixteenth note passage (that the first violins, my section, easily aced). The teacher isolated the second violins and worked with them for about fifteen minutes. After that, she put both first and seconds back together. My section and I were on point, while the second violins, even after fifteen minutes of practicing, were still dragging the beat.
The teacher commented on how much the seconds have improved. “It sounds great!”
But here’s the problem: they were still dragging. In my eyes, the seconds were still wrong. Obviously, they need to find time to practice on their own. Obviously, they need to be more familiar with what they were already assigned. When I pointed out that the seconds were still dragging, the director replied, “well it sounds better! Be optimistic.”
But why should any of us settle for “better?” Shouldn’t we all try to strive for perfection? In Taiwan, these kids probably would have had their grades docked; the teacher would not have waited to practice for 15 minutes with them (it is something they should’ve done LAST WEEK!) Moreover, when the 15 minutes passed and they were still messing up, any teacher in Asia would have sent them out to practice by themselves… NOT tell them that “it sounded better.”
Sure, it’s “optimistic” (and I believe that we should all be optimistic at the right situations), but this mindset will certainly not work in real life. Say you were building a tesla coil, and instead of reading the instructions and doing the research, you decided to chill and go to a party instead. When you made the coil, you messed up (due to your own lack of preparation) and forgot to ground something. Can you say “yay, at least I tried?” No. You can’t. You’d be dead.
Similarly, in the “real world,” an employer is not going to give you a gold star for “trying your best.” If you were a doctor, a careless mistake due to your lack of preparation can kill or seriously hurt someone. A miscalculation in statistics or finances can hurt a business. Being optimistic in these situations would not help at all. Maybe I’m taking orchestra a little too seriously, but I think we should always hold ourselves to a higher standard, not settle for mediocrity and the idea that “A is for effort!” Real life certainly does not work that way, and I believe that American education systems should offer the students the harsh truth instead of a false sense of security.