Tuesday, January 16, 2018


The United States, purporting to be the richest country in the world, has a reported literacy rate of 86%. Costa Rica has a literacy rate for men and women of 98%. In addition, the US spends more on education K-12 per child, than any other country on earth. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-education-spending-tops-global-list-study-shows/ In a listing of countries by educational performance, the US ranks 17th of 40 in the list.

So why are we getting such poor results? When my wife and daughter and I visited in Costa Rica a few years back, it was obvious that each and every small town had its own school, and each small school served as a center of community life.

In the US, we go for big stuff, big schooling in which students are isolated from community life, sequestered into discrete subjects, and pushed to read before ready. Reading alone can serve as an example. In Finland students in school are asked to begin reading at age 8, and by the time they are tested in the international PISA test, age 13, they far surpass American readers in 30 percent less time. Somewhere along the way, American educators became reading obsessed as though it was the only thing that mattered. And the pressure was applied. But you can't push a rope.

The push in the US is for school consolidation to gain economies of scale at the cost of community engagement. The schools and their administrations tend to be isolated from the needs of their communities. Local school boards have little power except to go through the motions prescribed by the state and federal governments.

But real education is about real life. It is not about statistics. It is not about test scores. It is about play, and it is about community, the engagement of the child within community, and the engagement of community within the life of each child.

Today I will be working on the dust collection system at ESSA, getting the wood shop ready for summer classes. Clear Spring School is closed today due to snow and severe cold.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that each child learns likewise.


  1. As a former elementary teacher I would suggest that it might be better to compare literacy rates among English speaking countries. The reason? For example let's compare English and Italian. Italian has 33 phonemes that are spelled 36 different ways. So a specific sound is almost always represented by the same combination of letters. English, on the other hand has about 45 phonemes. (I've forgotten the exact number but 45 is very close.) Those 45 can be spelled over a thousand ways. So many that linguist don't have an exact count. English is notorious for adopting foreign words pronunciation and spelling. Think French here. My favorite example of crazy spelling is Colonel. Where is the R? Not to mention laugh, through, thought and so on.

  2. Steven,
    The Danes have 52, the Norwegians 42 and the Swedes 34. The source I was looking at says that English has 36 and the Finns 34. If that's the case we are still behind all the Scandinavian countries in the PISA testing. Admittedly, there are lots of difficulties in specific words of foreign origin. I'm not thinking the number of phonemes offers us any excuse for failing our kids.

  3. I've got no idea what a phoneme even is, seriously, this post was the 1st time I've ever seen the word. I suppose I can guess though. The 1st time I heard the word 'conjugation' was in a french night class 6 or 7 years ago, most of the class of 20 hadn't seen the word either. I'm English, 46yrs young. The article above describes the English education system perfectly too.