An analysis of the differences between the educational systems in the United States and South Korea.
Chai’s first book in English seems intended to repay a debt of sorts. As he sees it, the United States has twice saved South Korea from disaster in the 20th century, and the Asian country owes its educational success, at least in part, to American support. Now, their respective national roles seem reversed; educational outcomes in America continue to rapidly decline, while South Korea’s have become a global example of educational efficiency. According to the author, the U.S. remains an education leader, particularly with respect to its private schools and universities, but it chronically flounders when it comes to serving low-income, urban minorities. He also argues that although American teachers are often woefully underpaid, public schools suffer from systemic problems that can’t be fixed solely with money. He holds up the Korean approach, despite its reputation for relentlessly pressuring its overworked students, as a model that the U.S. might emulate. “Many people, especially foreign visitors, mention that Korean schools…are too intense....Despite the current imperfections of the Korean education approach, there are a few things people in other cultures can learn from it.” Some ways the U.S. can follow Korea’s lead, he says, are administrative; for example, he believes that the federal government should increase emphases on math, science and technology. Much of his counsel, though, focuses on cultural disparity: American parents, he says, need to take a more proactive role in their children’s schooling, and society needs to hold teachers in greater esteem. Throughout this book, Chai’s analysis is clear, shorn of any partisan ideology, and he’s effectively armed with his own personal experiences attending Korean, Japanese and American schools. He also includes inspirational tales—case studies of disadvantaged Korean students who achieved impressive scholastic success. As a former teacher and economist, he provides a unique perspective on the U.S.’s educational troubles, and he provides fine recommendations on how to use Korea’s successes to rehabilitate the American system.
A rare find: a cool-headed assessment of American education that’s both nonpartisan and multicultural.