Thursday, January 3, 2008 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Nurturing Neurons: Local, Organic, or Imported?

As it watches the hypergrowth of the surrounding hypernations, Japan becomes insecure about the quality of its educational system, long considered one of the world's best. So, says the New York Times, the nation is rushing to emulate Indian teaching techniques:

Bookstores are filled with titles like “Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills” and “The Unknown Secrets of the Indians.” Newspapers carry reports of Indian children memorizing multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard for young elementary students in Japan.

And Japan’s few Indian international schools are reporting a surge in applications from Japanese families.

At the Little Angels English Academy & International Kindergarten, the textbooks are from India, most of the teachers are South Asian, and classroom posters depict animals out of Indian tales. The kindergarten students even color maps of India in the green and saffron of its flag.

U.S. public schools could learn a lot from any of these Asian nations, or the Europeans, for that matter. And American parents could surely learn something about valuing education from their Asian counterparts. Of course, Asia doesn't have all the answers. In fact, most of their recent success is because they are adopting our capitalist economic ideas.

But in the meantime, as we struggle to improve our schools, what does the U.S. think it is doing by strictly limiting legal immigration and visas for supersmart people from all over the world? Japan has to focus exclusively on indigenous education because it allows virtually no immigration. Fortunately, America can rely on both home-grown and imported human capital -- at least in theory. At the moment, however, we don't seem to be nurturing either source of smarts like we should.

I've just begun Amy Chua's new book Day of Empire, which argues that hyperpowers rise through tolerance and meritocracy -- and fall when they insulate themselves (become intolerant) to outside people and ideas. After the Introduction, at least, it rings pretty true.

posted by Bret Swanson @ 3:22 PM | Human Capital