Cross Cultural Surprises: How Europe’s K-12 Has One-Up’d the U.S.’s

After knocking about at a few more graveyards and ruins, as well as going to see some prehistoric standing stones and one of the few hot stone bath things (there’s multiple theories on what they are–everything from feast pits to spas), we returned home, and I dove headlong into writing papers. The most pressing at the moment is a fairly long one for my politics of Northern Ireland class. This is the longest class I have, running for two hours or so on Wednesday nights. It’s interesting, and I’m positively dying because who on earth can handle classes during dinner time? Definitely not for me. I also think the prof might have some of the same feelings, because I’m 99% sure she designed this class for good Irish folks to take, and instead she ended up with a class of five Americans, two Germans, a Swede, an Aussie, a girl from Denmark, three Generic Europeans, and then three or four Irish students who aren’t keen on participating.

This situation has, however, made way for some very interesting class times. There was, of course, the time that she had to scrap her lecture plans for the day because three quarters of her class was unaware of party structure in Ireland, so she couldn’t just say how Northern Ireland’s system was mainly the same with a few changes. Or the time where she had to list definitions to normal words like “democratic” because apparently most of them mean the exact opposite of what the word means in the U.S., or something entirely unrelated altogether. The most startling one, perhaps, was when we all found out how European and American schools are so. vastly. different.

And frankly, I side with the Europeans on this one.

It came about like this: the prof was talking about how, due to the conflict, the Northern Ireland Government actually runs Catholic schools and Protestant schools, which will even tend to teach different versions of the same classes (like, important classes like history). So, being the bright girl I am, I asked why they didn’t just have all the public schools be non-sectarian?

The collective gasp from the Europeans was astounding. They were shocked that someone could mention such an idea–until they realized all of the Americans were staring at them like they were crazy. Finally, someone asked.

“Wait, how do you do it in the U.S.?”

Ah, so glad you asked. You see, our public schools are non-religious. If you want a religious school, your parents have to be rich enough to not only pay the taxes to support the public schools, but to send you to private school, too. Now, it was the Americans’ turn to query how the Europeans did it. And, frankly, now that I’ve heard, I’m a bit jealous.

The schools don’t get funded by district. They get funded by student. It’s like it’s the best of both worlds. Parents get to choose exactly which school they want their child to go to, and then the state funds the school based on the number of children attending that particular school. Want to homeschool you kids? No problem, you get vouchers for a set amount to spend on their education. Want them to go to a non-religious school? The school gets the same amount to spend on your kid as you would to teach them at home. Devoutly religious? Same thing. It’s actually so much less complicated, and if you want to talk about equal opportunity, this would seem to level the playing field quite nicely, because it lets parents control where their kids are going. If your kid is into STEM and their current school has an awful science program, that’s fine. Just enroll them in another school that has a better program. There are, of course, other things (like caps on how many children can go into a classroom), but the main gist of it makes me envious.

Anyway, despite our analysis of Northern Ireland’s conflict turning into a regular cross cultural discussion, I still have a hugemongous paper that needs to be finished. It’s due November 2nd, so I’ve roughly ten days to pull it together, and then between the end of that and the end of the classes for the semester (end of November–dead week is the first week of December, with finals following, and fortunately I’ve none of those) I’ve got about six papers due.

I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a wee bit crazy around here.

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0 Responses to Cross Cultural Surprises: How Europe’s K-12 Has One-Up’d the U.S.’s

  1. IntenseGuy says:

    I wonder what percent of the students in Europe actually want to go to school?

    • I think a lot do, actually–I just happen to have had the bad luck to land in classes with very few Irish folk. All of the students in the lab, though, definitely want to be there, and I think I’m the only American there.

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