Home > education > If your school were a country, which one would it be?

If your school were a country, which one would it be?

Different countries work differently, both in theory and in practice. I think we can learn from these differences.

Just for example, the Russian approach to hostage situations assigns top priority to killing the hostage takers. This is why, in October of 2002, Russian forces pumped poison gas into a Russian theater that Chechen rebels had taken over. Even though the theater contained hundreds of innocent civilians, including some very prominent Russians, the decision was made — in keeping with Russian policy — to do everything to kill the offenders.

By contrast, the U.S. approach would have assigned higher priority to getting the civilians out alive.

Similarly, the center traffic lanes in Moscow were reserved for high-ranking political officials, while in the U.S., everyone has to yield to emergency vehicles: the well-being of American citizens is (supposed to be) more important than the luxury of the ruling class.

More generally, the United States is — at least in theory and, I think, largely in practice — devoted to democracy, openness, transparency, and human rights. (I know there are exceptions.) Other values seem to include self-sufficiency, individuality, and the right to become rich. And having an independent and critical media seems pretty important.

China, by contrast, places more emphasis on societal rights than on individual ones. Toward this end, China exerts more control than the U.S. does over what its population has access to. This is one reason that the Chinese government censors the Internet.

Iran goes even further, censoring almost everything in its attempt to control the population. Creativity is discouraged and conformity is rewarded.

For that matter, I know people from corruption-ridden countries who lament the bureaucracy in the U.S. “At least back home,” goes one complaint, “you can bribe someone if you’re in a hurry. Here you have no recourse.”

Most people I know laud the U.S. approach and criticize China and Iran for their lack of openness.

Yet I frequently encounter Hebrew Schools that contain elements of what seem to be Chinese or Iranian principles: The Internet is censored or otherwise restricted. Cell phones are banned. (I understand the cell-phone issue is more complicated.) The collective good in the form of quiet and order trumps individual students’ needs.

In many schools, classroom environments are designed for the comfort of the teacher instead of the well-being of the students, just as the Soviet Union offered convenience to politburo members at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Most schools discourage independent, critical observation, and have nothing that plays the role of the media.

So here’s my question: if your school were a country, which country would it be? And are you happy with the answer?

Categories: education
  1. June 18, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    My previous school, West Virginia State University, suffered under a bureaucracy which looked like a cross between Weber and Picasso. There were some high points, such as the Political Science department, but then you had everything else. The student leadership was discouraged from speaking out against the Administration and generally supplied with perks not to do so. It generally has no spokesperson at the Legislature, although it is a historically black university and one of the oldest in the State.

    Umm… Switzerland?

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