The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #41: The Smartest Kids in the World

This is normally where I plug my personal blog, but instead I feel like saying this: “WINTER BREAK! WOOOO!!! NO SCHOOL!!! LET’S READ ABOUT SCHOOL!!!!”

Fun fact for anyone who has tuned in to my writing without knowing my background: I’m a teacher, and proud. More than that, I have a masters degree in international education, and I’m proud of that. I suppose I love diverse worlds of education because I’m a glutton for punishment: not content with my standard 12 years of high school, plus 4 years of college and 2 years of graduate school, I want to be in school every day. Not content to be in one kind of massively complicated often ineffective bureaucratic system, I’ve chosen to study and explore dozens of them around the world.

Amanda Ripley took on the same challenge with a more direct purpose. Rather than questing after knowledge or jobs, like I do, she was hunting for the answer to a simple question: “how can American kids get a world class education?”. She and troop of exchange student journalists looked into the systems of successful schools in Korea, Poland and Finland and report back with anecdotes and analyses that peer into the multitude of factors that help them succeed while we struggle (comparatively).

The book comes back with a host of ideas and buzzwords including social structure, mathematics instruction, teacher training, drive, rigor, parental engagement, union adaptability, cultural value and standardized testing. Ultimately Ripley’s take away seems to be that everyone cares about education, but Americans care about other things beyond the learning in the classroom (self-esteem, athletic accomplishment, personal policy victories).

As someone who has studied international education and has a personal stake in how well American students do on tests, I’m impressed with how well Ripley and her collaborators have done given such a short time. Though I dispute that any test (even the almighty PISA used to frame this study) should be used as a global yardstick, I’m glad that someone has demanded that pundits and policy makers step back from their abstract arguments to consider that there is no one answer. To be sure the hug-happy American educator hasn’t served students as well as they could, but our fixes won’t come from Finland or Poland or even cram-session Korea. If readers approach this book less as a road map for success and more as a puzzle to solve, there’s plenty of hope for us left.

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reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #47 How to be a Woman by Caitlan Moran

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I started this book about 6 months ago, then picked it up again read a few chapters, then again, until I finished it. Caitlin Moran is pretty funny, although I found the interviews I heard on the radio funnier than the book I finally completed The book is primarily an autobiography with a dash of feminism here and there.

Moran’s views on feminism aren’t terribly radical.  She believes that any woman who wants to be free to do what she wants should consider herself a feminist.  As she says we need to reclaim the word “feminism.” Citing a survey that less than 30% of American women and 42% of British women consider themselves feminists, she says:  “What do you think feminism IS, ladies” What part of “liberation for women” is not for you” IS it freedom to vote?” The right not to be owned by the man you marry?” The campaign for equal pay? “Vogue by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?“ Ok, the use of all caps is really irritating (and she does this a lot) but she does make a good point. 

Moran doesn’t believe that all men secretly hate women, and she doesn’t think that feminism’s biggest problem is women turning on each other.  She may tick of a few folks with her statement that “women haven’t done F’all for the last 100,000 years.” To her credit, she doesn’t suggest that the past must dictate the future; rather, she’s simply conceding that thousands of years of patriarchy are not easily undone.

Moran spends a lot of time covering the insecurities of women, particularly about appearance and weight through the lens of her adolescence and adulthood.  It works, it’s funny, and lets face it, what most women think about their own appearance is pretty f’d up. 

To sum up, Moran is against burkas, heels, strip bars and cosmetic surgery, and pro-choice, pro freedom, and pro being yourself.  And she’s funny.  Good enough.