Just over two weeks to graduation, son James is concerned about global competitiveness. He’s off to study physics at Lawrence University in the fall; he is insistent I note the news in the paper this week. I still have an active stake in public schools, after all — good call, James. Here’s his concern, below.
Each child has two million minutes of life over the four years of high school. Whether the U.S. can remain competitive in the global economy depends more than ever on how each child allocates those two million minutes.
A new film raises concerns that U.S. children are losing out against students from India and China.
Dallas Morning News business reporter Jim Landers wrote about the movie, “Two Million Minutes,” in an article May 6. It’s an indication of something that this is front page in the business section — an indication of genuine concern, one may hope.
Science and mathematics education gets the major attention in the film. One wishes this film could compete with the anti-science film “Expelled!” which still lingers malodrously in a few theatres across the nation.
2 Million Minutes argues that “the battle for America’s economic future isn’t being fought by our government. It’s being fought by our kids.”
And in a series of international comparisons, the U.S. kids are not doing so well. The one area where they score better than the rest is self-confidence.
Once they leave the eighth grade, students have a little more than 2 million minutes to get ready for work or college and the transition to being an adult. This documentary, made by high-tech entrepreneur Robert Compton, follows two high school seniors in Carmel, Ind., two in Bangalore, India, and two in Shanghai, China, to see how they use their time.
All six are bright, accomplished, college-bound individuals.
Our students spend a lot of time watching TV, working part-time jobs, playing sports and video games, but not so much on homework. The Chinese kids spend an extra month in school each year, more hours at school each day and more hours doing homework. By the time they graduate, Chinese students have spent more than twice as much time studying as their U.S. counterparts.
While one may hope kids will pay attention, one may be unhappy to recall the topic, and many of the same or similar numbers, were published nationally in the 1980s by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) at the U.S. Department of Education. I remember it well, since I was publisher for some of the work.
The website for the movie offers more details, including a calendar of screenings. DVDs are available, but at very high prices — $25 for home use, $100 for school or non-profit use. I’d love to show it to students; I can get a couple of much-needed PBS videos for that same price. I hope producers will work to arrange distribution competitive with opposition movies like Stein’s. I’ll wager “Expelled!” will hit the DVD market at about $10.00, with thousands of DVDs available for free to churches and anti-science organizations.
Landers chalks up some of the stakes, and we should all pay attention:
Nearly 60 percent of the patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the field of information technology now originate in Asia.
The United States ranks 17th among nations in high-school graduation rate and 14th in college graduation rate.
In China, virtually all high school students study calculus; in the United States, 13 percent study calculus.
For every American elementary and secondary school student studying Chinese, there are 10,000 students in China studying English.
The average American youth now spends 66 percent more time watching television than in school.
SOURCE: “Is America Falling off the Flat Earth?” by Norman R. Augustine, chairman, National Academy of Sciences “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” committee