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When it comes to student debt in the United States, the numbers are truly staggering – in 2012, 71 percent of new bachelor’s degree graduates had debt, averaging over $29,000. Over the last ten years, student debt has quadrupled – topping $1 trillion.
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By Fareed Zakaria
It's graduation season in the United States, which means the season of commencements speeches – a time for canned jokes and wise words. This year I was asked to do the honors at Sarah Lawrence in New York, a quintessential liberal arts college. So I thought it was worth talking about the idea of a liberal arts education – which is under serious attack these days.
The governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina have all announced that they do not intended to spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts.Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, asks, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don't think so.” Even President Obama recently urged students to keep in mind that a technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history.
I can well understand the concerns about liberal arts because I grew up in India in the 1960s and ‘70s. A technical training was seen as the key to a good career. If you were bright, you studied science, so that’s what I did.
But when I got to America for college, I quickly saw the immense power of a liberal education.For me, the most important use of it is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college, I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough.
Following is an excerpt from Fareed's address at Sarah Lawrence College’s 86th Commencement, which was delivered this morning. For more information on the commencement click here.
You are graduating from Sarah Lawrence, the quintessential liberal arts college, at an interesting moment in history – when the liberal arts are, honestly, not very cool. You all know what you’re supposed to be doing these days– study computer science, code at night, start a company, and take it public. Or, if you want to branch out, you could major in mechanical engineering. What you’re not supposed to do is get a liberal arts education.
This is not really a joke anymore. The governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina have announced that they do not intend to spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts. Florida Governor, Rick Scott, asks, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” Even President Obama recently urged students to keep in mind that a technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history. Majors like English, once very popular and highly respected, are in steep decline.
I can well understand the concerns about liberal arts because I grew up in India in the 1960s and 1970s. A technical training was seen as the key to a good career. People who studied the liberal arts were either weird or dumb. (Or they were women because, sadly, in those days, the humanities was seen as an appropriate training for an aspiring housewife but not for a budding professional) If you were bright, you studied science, so I did. I even learned computer programming - in India in the 1970s! When I came to the United States for college, I brought with me that mindset. In my first year at Yale, I took a bunch of science and math courses. But I also took one course in the history of the Cold War. That course woke me up and made me recognize what I really loved. I dove into history and English and politics and economics and have stayed immersed in them ever since.
By Fareed Zakaria
The United States has high levels of education and a large percentage of its workers in adult learning and training programs, and it spends lots of money on all these activities. And yet, it does worse than many countries with few advantages and resources. (And no, it isn’t just because of immigrants. About half of the OECD countries now have a larger percentage of foreign-born adults than does the United States)
What we learn from this study is really just an extension of what we have discovered in the PISA results. The biggest force behind falling American rankings is not that the United States is doing things much worse but that other countries have caught up and are doing better. The U.S. system of education and training is inadequate in the new global environment.
And things show no signs of improving. The bipartisan backlash against the Common Core — a set of national standards agreed to by governors — is a tragic example. Parents raised on a culture of low standards and high self-esteem are outraged that the tests show that many American schools are not teaching their children enough. (The tests must be at fault because they know that their kids are brilliant!) Some liberals and teacher groups are upset with the emphasis on testing (though Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, has endorsed the Common Core). And Republicans now oppose it — despite having championed it only a few years ago — largely because the Obama administration also backs the project.
GPS Digital Producer Jason Miks speaks with Amy Chua, a law professor at Yale, and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, also a professor at Yale, about their new book ‘The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America,’ and what it means to be a Tiger Mom. Watch Fareed’s interview with Chua and Rubenfeld this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Your 2011 book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, sparked an intense debate with its look at the differences between Chinese and Western parenting. What are the key characteristics of a Tiger Mom?
Chua: I would say extremely high expectations, high discipline and definitely unconditional love. And I think high expectations are absolutely consistent with unconditional love. To me, a Tiger Mom is the opposite of a Helicopter Mom – a Helicopter Mom wants to make things easier for her kids, and I think a Tiger Parent is actually thinking about strengthening the child for the future. And so it’s kind of a long term project, and often it can feel like actually putting obstacles in front of your child, whereas a Helicopter Parent is someone who is wanting to do everything for their child. A Tiger Parent is basically saying “Let me put some obstacles in your way so you can train, so that when you go out into the real world, it will be easier.”
Fareed speaks with Wendy Kopp, the CEO and co-founder of Teach for All and the founder of Teach for America, about improving education in the United States.
So what seemed to be the best practices that are applicable?
Kopp: I mean just to go back to the Shanghai example, it was about teachers. It's also about school leaders. And it's about, you know, system leadership. We were blown away by the caliber of the folks who have, over a long time, driven the change. And if you get under the covers, some Shanghai schools are stronger than others. And they take those school principals who are running the best schools and pair them up with the principals at the other schools so that they can transfer the practices. Like this is a people business. I actually couldn't agree more that technology can give a ton of leverage to really strong people.
But to me, and this is what Teach for All is all about, but we've got to start channeling our top talent toward this challenge of improving educational outcomes and especially taking on educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged kids. And that needs to happen all across the world.
Watch the video for the second half of the panel or tune into GPS today at 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
“An absolute wake-up call for America.” That’s what U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan called the recent release of test scores showing how American kids compared with their peers around the world. The test is called the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA. Here's how American kids ranked: 17th of 34 countries in reading, 21st in science, 26th in math, which doesn't look good.
How do we improve them? We have a terrific panel. Joel Klein is the former chancellor of New York City's school system. Wendy Kopp is the CEO and co-founder of Teach for All and the founder of Teach for America. Sal Khan, well, Sal Khan is one of the most innovative educators in the world and of course the founder of Khan Academy. And Tom Friedman is the three-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times.
Watch the video for the panel or tune into GPS today at 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
By Fareed Zakaria
The United States has done very well in harnessing the talents of its top 1 percent and in attracting the top 1 percent from the rest of the world to live and work here. These are the engines of innovation, growth and dynamism. But the country’s vast middle class — and below — has seen its wages stagnate for three decades. And this is getting worse as technology and globalization depress job prospects for people in the middle.
The real story of these tests has been “the rise of the rest.” The United States has muddled along over the past few decades, showing little improvement or decline. Meanwhile, countries including South Korea and Singapore have skyrocketed to the top, and now China, Vietnam and Poland are doing astonishingly well. These countries have workers whose productivity levels have been rising in tandem with their educational achievements.
There are many reasons, but to put it simply, many of these countries are playing to win.
The latest results of a new global exam given to 15 year-olds showed American students to be average in science and reading and below average in math. There were little or no gains in the last decade, while other countries raced ahead of the United States. Anderson Cooper speaks with Fareed and Amanda Ripley, author of the Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, about why children in Shanghai and Finland seem to be doing so much better. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Fareed, this latest study is one of a continuing string of studies that shows the U.S. educational system lagging behind the rest of the world. What do you make of the results?
Zakaria: The study is very revealing. What it shows is that while we're sort of walking around in one of those people movers going nowhere, the rest of the world, very many countries, are on escalators. What this shows is that it's not so much that we've been doing anything dramatically badly, but in the context in which everybody else is playing to win, we're falling behind badly. And all of a sudden, we look at the difference between us and countries like South Korea and Singapore and it's widening. But increasingly, the gap between us and countries like Poland is also widening.
Fareed speaks with journalist Amanda Ripley, author of 'The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way,' about what other countries can teach the U.S. about education. Watch the video for the full interview.
America is exceptional in many ways. Sadly, secondary education is not one of them. The most recent rankings for the Program for International Student Assessment has American 15 year-olds ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, among other developed nations. Countries like Finland and South Korea always rank near the top.
In a 2011 GPS special, we went to those two countries to see what they were doing differently. Investigative journalist Amanda Ripley went one step further. She followed some American kids as they spent a year abroad in high school in those two countries and in Poland. The results are fascinating. The book is called The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.
Amanda Ripley joins me now. So what did you find about those three countries that struck you? You actually have three models that you say that they represent. What are they?
So, South Korea is the pressure cooker model. The extreme case of what you see all over Asia, where kids are working night and day, literally, under a lot of family pressure, to get very high test scores. Now, South Korea does get those high test scores, but at great cost. So that’s one, the pressure cooker model.
Finland is, in many ways, the opposite extreme of South Korea. Not in all ways, but in some. And Finland is what I call the utopia model – they've really invested in quality over quantity and the kids are, on average, doing less homework than our kids, but still achieving at the very top of the world on tests of critical thinking and math, reading and science, with very little variation from school to school or from socioeconomic status from one to the other.
By Diya Nijhowne, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Diya Nijhowne is the director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, which was established in 2010 by groups concerned about ongoing attacks on educational institutions, their students, and staff in countries affected by conflict. The views expressed are the author’s own.
One year ago today, Malala Yousefzai and her classmates were on their way home from school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, when two men stopped their school bus and climbed aboard. Malala described what happened next: “The Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too.”
Although the girls were badly injured, all three thankfully survived. Unfortunately, Malala and her classmates were not the only Pakistani students attacked in the past year. In June, for example, 14 female university students were killed when militants blew up their bus in Quetta, Balochistan, a western province.
Pakistan’s teachers and administrators have also been targeted. Five teachers were killed in January in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. In March, another was shot and killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A principal and six school children died that month during an attack at their school in Karachi.
By Fareed Zakaria
A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development points out that the United States is one of only three rich countries that spends less on disadvantaged students than on other students — largely because education funding for elementary and secondary schools in the United States is tied to local property taxes. By definition, poor neighborhoods end up with badly funded schools. In general, the United States spends lots of money on education, but most of it is on college education or is otherwise directed toward those already advantaged in various ways.
There is debate about the effectiveness of certain early education programs such as Head Start. It may be that providing help to “at-risk families” — treating drug-addicted mothers for example — has a bigger impact on children than a specific enrichment program. Though, clearly, most of us believe that these enrichment programs work. Corak points out that the well-off in the United States spend nearly $9,000 a year on books, computers, child care and summer camps — nearly seven times what families in the bottom fifth of earners spend. In fact, this is part of what makes mobility low.