Mix 104.1 New England Lifestyles! One of the things that has been a topic and not a huge topic of conversation, but it’s definitely out there is that while the United States claims that we have the greatest school system anywhere and look at our great students, but the reality is, is that more and more, “grade students” in United States universities are primarily made up of people from overseas. And why is that? Why has the US school systems started to be less effective at creating great students than other countries? Well, joining us on the phone right now is global education consultant, Teru Clavel, who’s the author of a new book called World Class, One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the World in Search of the Best Education for Her Children…. long title, but it’s important. And Teru, thank you so much for joining us today in Boston.
Teru Clavel 0:48
Thank you so much for having me, Mike.
It’s really nice to chat. I have been, you know, I I grew up born and raised in the United States. I did okay in school. My wife was an immigrant from Vietnam in 1980, got to United States, couldn’t speak English, in sixth grade she was put into the school system… didn’t even speak English. They said she’d figure it out and by the time she graduated, she was the second highest in the class of 500. It speaks to the fact that she had a good environment to learn. But one of the things, yeah, so tell me a little bit about the genesis of your book and what you found when you compare US… You know, you say you personally have been around the world looking for the best education. How’d that happen?
Teru Clavel 1:37
Well, so really, I grew up in the New York tri-state area here in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and in 2006, I, at that point, had a baby and a toddler and a work opportunity came up for us to go overseas to Asia. And just to backtrack a little, I am also the product of immigrants who came to the US from Japan. So culturally, my household was Japanese, we ate Japanese food, and I only spoke Japanese in my home.
And I would assume that you always took your shoes off before you went to her house?
Teru Clavel 2:12
I do the same thing. The looks I get from my wife if I don’t take off the shoes.
Teru Clavel 2:18
(Laughs) Yes, very much the same! And, you know, it’s common to really value education in the countries that I lived in, in East Asia. And that really was kind of how I grew up in my household as well, although I was predominantly and primarily in New York and in Connecticut. So in 2006, we took off to Hong Kong and I was there for four years. And during that time, I had my third child. So we have a boy, boy and a girl. And then in 2010, we moved to Shanghai. We’re there for two years. And then in 2012, I moved to Tokyo there for four years and then moved back to the US but not to New York to Palo Alto, California, which is the heart of Silicon Valley, and then finally came back to New York last summer. And it was interesting, I think that what we did that was different from the typical expatriate is that I always enrolled my children in the local public schools. So what I saw was not kind of what I guess what they call ‘third culture kid” experience, but really what the locals who are of that area of experience. And you asked me what was really different. And, you know, one of the first things that struck me was this level of mastery that was expected both of the students and all the teachers. So to give you an idea in Shanghai when we first moved there, my first grader had a teacher who really looked like she was still in high school, right? She looked like she was 23 years old, and I’m kind of thinking, “Well, you know, what is she going to teach me? I’m a seasoned mom.” And not at all. Starting in first grade in Shanghai, the teachers are subject specific, so you have a specific math teacher, a specific English teacher, yes, because in Shanghai kids learn English as well as Chinese, and science. And it was remarkable. And in first grade if my son did not get a 95% on his regularly given arithmetic quizzes, he was kept after school until he learned it. And it was not a disciplinary thing. It was just par for the course and very normal for kids just to stay till as long as it took for this for the kids to learn. And sometimes teachers would happily stay to dinner.
That’s impressive. This can be in one of the things… and look, I am the child of two teachers. So I’m not here to bash teaching, but one of the things that I’ve found over the years is that sometimes I feel like you know, the teacher’s unions work against the constituents, which is the children, you know, having to, “I have to get out at this time. I’m not working past this,” when in reality, it’s like, I understand it’s a tough job for any teacher. But reality is, I think it should always be children first and you know, we have so much time off in the United States, and, you know, we kind of get kids to really study to take tests and not really to embrace the learning. And I’ve always been kind of fascinated by the way we approach things. And I’ve certainly felt that, you know, over the years that the changes in the United States education system have gone away from really making kids smart. Because when I grew up, I feel like I got a really, really strong education. But now I see my kids come home, and, you know, 75% of the time, they don’t have homework, and I’m like, What is going on here?
Teru Clavel 5:32
You know, that’s such an interesting point. Because, you know, in the rest of the developed world where they actually have very high educational outcomes, not having homework is not part of the discourse, right? It’s obvious that kids get homework and I can tell you in Hong Kong, when I put my kids into a local magnet Mandarin speaking school, they started getting homework at age three. And well, there’s some association in the US, which is: homework is bad. Right? It’s hard, it’s not fun. Whereas, you know, it was really small kind of homework, they just had to copy a few characters every day, literally just maybe three or four times. But it got them in the habit of knowing they had to do it. And when I came back to the US, it was, you know, homework is this horrible thing. And you know, if you’re in fourth grade, 4 x 10, you get 40 minutes of homework, and then 5 x 10 for fifth grade, and, and then a lot of that is taken up by reading and something that you said that was really interesting was this love of learning that I think is starting to kind of fall away. And I would say two things to that. I would say, we just don’t expect enough of our students. They can do so much more and be challenged so much more. And I really do, and this goes against kind of the popular practice in the US right now, but I’m against this notion of giving our kids so many chances, you know, in in adult real life, often times you only get one chance, right? In an athletic game, you only get one chance to win and there’s so much to gain from losing or from failure. And it’s what you do during that time to overcome that challenge that builds that resiliency. And there’s nothing, I think, more motivating than coming up from a fall. And that keeps you going. Right? And I think that’s a love of learning. It’s like knowing “oh my gosh, I can look back and look at my shelf of 30 books and say, I read those this year.”
Teru Clavel 7:24
I just find that really, really interesting and how you say, children aren’t first and actually going back to how you talked about teachers and I really admire that both of your parents were teachers. And the whole union conversation here is really interesting, because, you know you can probably imagine, in China unions are illegal,which is a whole other conversation, you know, right? But it’s really hard because there’s some teachers who are strapped by union rules, right? Because there’s some teachers who, like my example in Shanghai, would love to stay after school with the students to work with them, but their union, their local union has ruled that as soon as the bell rings, they have to get out. And it does go sometimes counter to the best interests of the kids. And I would eat that to a further level. And I would say, our corporations in this country are so powerful that I feel like you know, all the technology in the classrooms now is the most genius product placement, I’ve seen in a really, you know, in probably my lifetime.
No, I agree with you. And by the way, if anyone’s just tuned in to Mix 104.1, I’m Mike Maloney. This is New England Lifestyles. And we are talking to Teru Clvel, who’s the author of the new book World Class: One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children. And you know, I think you’ve struck on something which is, to me one of the biggest problems that we now have is the distraction by electronics is crazy. I have a son who is, you know, he’s got some learning challenges, but he’s addicted. So, you know, every night I go into his room, he’s got his Chromebook on watching videos while he’s on his phone. And there’s a video game in the same room and every time we try to limit it, you know, you say to the kids every night, “guys, give me your phones, concentrate on your homework.” “Well, we have to do our homework on our phones.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And apparently, they have now integrated iPhones and stuff into the curriculum at school that it’s like, I just feel like we’re putting kids in a situation where they now have losing the fundamental ability to concentrate.
Teru Clavel 9:32
Oh, 100% I don’t, you know, I could talk about this probably through next year. You know, it’s so distracting, you know. The 2017 – 18 academic year I traveled across the country and visited schools. And there wasn’t a single school where I felt technology was used without distraction. I mean, kids are getting inappropriate information. The technology wasn’t working. So you may have spent 15 minutes of classroom time on trying to get a password or the WiFi to work.
Teru Clavel 10:00
It’s completely disintermediate the relationship between the teacher and the student, and there is no more important factor than the outcome of your child’s classroom learning during the school day, then that relationship, you know, I mean, back in a day, you remember when we use pencils, and we had the bump on our finger from writing so much, right? And we had the side of our hand that was covered in lead basically and that kind of grit and persistence, it’s almost like a badge of honor to be able to do that. And right now, the teachers have no idea if the kids are doing their work, if they’re showing their work if they’re jumping ahead. I mean, there’s no chance an algorithm can know your child’s emotions and functions and way of thinking better than a very qualified and trained teacher.
I agree. You know, one of the things that I will always bring up as a good example of this is, you know, I’ve coached softball and baseball for many, many years. I don’t care how much you watch a video about how to play baseball. It is not the same as being on a field and participating. And so no matter how much you can sit there and say, “okay, kids, we’re going to learn about this today. Everybody open up your Chromebooks.” How about they read it the night before? And then you have an actual face to face conversation. Conversation is so much more, applied learning, ask a question, give an answer. Rather than saying, “well, let me look this up.” It’s just the applied learning part of it. You can watch and watch and watch till you’re blue in the face. I’m glad TED talks are out there. I’m glad a lot of them are assigned. But rather than just have them watch TED Talks, how about have a talk with the students? This distraction. There should not be iPhones in a classroom. There should not be!
Teru Clavel 11:39
100%. You know, and I wish there was a stronger backlash against technology in the classrooms and I hope at least starting and now there will be, but it’s really hard. You know, I’ve yet to see a school and to all your listeners, please contact me if you are one of these schools or if you are a parent. We’ll start this campaign. But I have yet to see a school that has a hand in hand approved school, parents tech policy, where everybody is on board with how it’s being used and how it’s being monitored, because I’ve seen schools that give, you know, kindergarteners iPads to take home that are completely unmonitored.
Teru Clavel 12:22
It’s insane. Let our kids be kids.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Well, let’s talk about this thing. So obviously, you’re talking about the book, which is really talking about your journey to find the best education possible. One of the things you do is you talk about improving American schools. So let’s talk about some of these things that you think American schools could do to really pace themselves because I the stat that really jumped out to me last year was that when you look at the top students in colleges across the country, 50% are from outside the United States. 50% of the best students in all of our universities are from outside which look number one, I don’t mind that because I like the fact that you know, the United States college is becoming a melting pot of international learning. That’s a good thing. But why aren’t we doing better? And what are some of the ideas that you think we could use to improve our schools?
Teru Clavel 13:12
So there are a bunch of things. I mean, we touched upon a few of these is this idea of mastery, we should not be giving any kind of promotion for our students from fifth to sixth grade, let alone you know, up until high school, until they’ve hit higher levels of academic achievement, you know, and the community and our network and our schools are responsible for promoting these kids before they are ready and statistics, I mean, if you look at the PISA scores, the PISA exam, if your listeners aren’t aware, is an exam that comes out every three years and it measures the ability in reading, science and math for 15 year olds across 70 plus different countries and economies. And typically, the Scandinavian countries and the East Asian countriesc ome up ahead and the US is always in the middle of the pack and actually falling. And what they show that, to me is the most jarring statistic is that literally, our 18 year olds are at the level of their 15 year olds. Right?
And that makes sense to me, sadly.
Teru Clavel 14:16
It does. And if you’re talking about who we see at the universities doing well. So I would say that expected mastery is really, really important. I would say, it is incumbent upon our schools and our… because if you look at the funding model, right, a lot of it, most of our public schools are funded by local tax dollars and state tax dollars…. it’s incumbent upon our districts and our states to invest heavily in recruiting, paying and investing in the professional development of our teachers. And in these East Asian countries for instance, it’s hard to become a teacher as it is to become a doctor or lawyer and to retain those certifications right? They have to continue with professional development and go through re-credentialing every 5 – 10 years. And that’s a whole other aspect. Of course, our funding model, which I just touched upon now, is broken. We have to have universal quality, early childcare. There’s no question. And in the other countries 70% to 80%, even though it’s not even compulsory, of 0 – 5 year olds attend to early childhood programs. And you know, something else that I think it’s not necessarily based on our academics because I don’t want to say that academics are everything. But in the Japanese school system, something that works I think so beautifully that we can all learn from, adults and children alike, is the notion of community. And starting in preschool there, you know, through first grade, there are no janitors and the school. Kids have their own rags, they have to clean the floors, again, all fours, they clean the floors, they clean the toilets, they don’t have cafeteria workers, although there are people who prepare the food, the kids serve the food, they clean up after themselves. And it’s this beautiful idea of you know, starting at a very young age, you’re not just learning to take care of yourself, but you’re learning to take care of something bigger than yourself, your community which starts in your classroom, and then in your school, and I really wish schools, and I’m not saying US schools would ever decide to get rid of the janitorial or cafeteria staff, but kids can take more responsibility for their environment.
Yeah, yeah, I was gonna say this really is about more, because it’s somewhere along the line and I’m not sure where this happened but I’ve noticed it you know, when I was growing up Christmas time, I would put together a Christmas list and if I had 15 things on it, if I was lucky, I get two or three things. I think this generation of parents has made it so that every single item the kid wants is under that tree rather than make them work for things. Everything is just easy. Kid says “I want,” kid gets. You know, everything has kind of become too easy for kids, I think. You know, I mean, it’s like everything we’re doing is trying to create this environment of like, great comfort for our children. And I just think that this is there has to be, you know, the idea of like in Little League where you can’t keep score up until 10th grade. It’s like why? Kids want to compete. Kids have to learn early on that there is a winner and a loser in any competition. And if you lose, ask yourself “why? What can you do to make yourself win?” If we can protect our children from the consequences of anything, any negative any “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t get the Xbox I wanted this year.” My kid is gonna go off the rails. Well, how about this? What if the kid who wants to earn something and you give them goals to work towards it? For some reason, we’ve created this society where we want our kids to just be blissfully ignorant of consequences.
Teru Clavel 17:40
You know, and I will relate that back to our conversation about technology, because something that I didn’t say is that there’s virtually no technology in the classrooms in China and Japan.
Teru Clavel 17:52
And that’s tremendous, right? Because if you think about the number of hours our kids are actually in front of some kind of a screen, an iPad or an iPhone or a laptop or desktop somewhere, right? It’s, I mean, common sense has its hours, but it’s like eight plus hours a day. Right? So if you’re taking away that time from the classroom, and it’s, you know, maybe at home and have the iPhone after school, that’s a really different story, because you’ve had to learn how to function without one during the day. And so, this is a theory I have, because our kids are literally like you mentioned, getting addicted to these devices, as are many adults. And the communication. I mean, when I was growing up, you know, if I was lost somewhere, literally physically lost in the city or road in the country, or wherever I was, or if I had a fight with a friend or I had a bad day or if I did badly on a test, I had to deal with it right with what was literally around me. Now, we’re posting it on social media or our kids are right? They are contacting their mom right away. They have a bad evening or you know, something bad happened at school, they contact their mom or their dad, their mam or dad goes immediately to the classroom teacher, it happens, you know, within a minute, they go to the headmaster, if it’s an email to multiple people, and we can’t cut the tether, right? And then we have so many stories about kids who are 18, 19, 20 years old going to college with anxiety, failure to launch, you know, but at what point do parents let the kids struggle on their own? It’s like you mentioned with the Christmas presents under the tree.
Teru Clavel 19:27
You know, if you can’t get everything you want.
And there has to be some adversity, you know, that’s why lifting weights is is good for you, because you need some resistance, resistance builds strength. And this is just one of the things that we you know, we’ve been over the years just trying to, we in wanting our kids to have the perfect life so they can have the perfect adulthood, because they have learn how to deal with this stuff. And I think this plays into the whole idea of society dictating things and you know, certain societies are better at being a little harder because life is hard. You know, that’s one of the things that I think is you compare other societies every time I’ve talked to you know, my wife’s family is just, my wife is always fascinated, you know, she grew up in this Vietnamese household, which was strict about things, you know, it’s like, staying over a friend’s house? No, we didn’t stay over our friend’s house growing up! And it’s just like, it’s funny how we want to give our kids everything they want. In reality her family was strict and her family is so, you know, the family relationship is so much stronger now. And my family, which was a little loosey goosey growing up, we’ve falling away from each other, it’s just it’s funny how sometimes resistance actually gives you better strength in families as well. You know,
Teru Clavel 20:41
Yeah no, and something that I want I want to pick up on you mentioned sports a few times and something, you know, and somehow in our culture, we don’t, we’re not graceful in light of failure. There’s some kind of a shame associated with it. Something that, you know, and I talk about all this stuff in World Class. But in Japan, something that was so beautiful is you know, there’s a Japanese practice of bowing to show respect. And after any sports game, the kids on both teams, they line up in front of the parents who are there and and their fans on their side, and they line up and they bow. And after the bow, they go to the opponent’s side, and their parents and their fans and bow to them. And it’s this gracious, you know… to compete, you always have to have an opponent. So thank you for showing up. We may have lost, we may have won but thank you very much. And I think it’s a beautiful kind of, you know, image or metaphor for how it’s okay to lose. And there’s beauty in competition and collaboration.
I know, look, I could not agree with you more on this. And again, you know, we’re talking to Teru Clavel and the name of her book is World Class: One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children. Her website is teruclavel.com. You can follow her at Twitter @TeruClavel and on Facebook @TeruClavelWriter. And again, you know, we’re talking about how to make our students a little more competitive. I mean, we’ve talked about so many things, and it really does come down to, you know, I tried to maximize the way our children approach things because even if things aren’t perfect in the schools, so much of how our children learn, does come down to the family, you know, over the years have found that one of the things that people always say is the greatest tool in raising your kids is the dinner table. Because you can get around and you can have a conversation and so much time we get distracted, we aren’t even so much a family anymore. We’re more you know, disparate parts of one household that happen to be sharing the same living space but don’t always bond. And it’s just so important that we as parents are also taking a very, very active role. It shouldn’t just be students, it should be students, parents, teachers and I think that that triumvirate is what’s going to help students succeed.
Teru Clavel 23:05
I couldn’t agree more. I do talk about this in World Class. In Shanghai, the report card from elementary school was 46 pages, and it was a book! 46 pages! And when I first got it, I made the wrong assumption, ” oh yeah, this is all academics, it’s just going to be a bunch of blah, blah, blah, he knows how to add one plus one.” And no! It was literally every page or two pages was subject specific. And the top half was about the academics. But the second half was about, you know, initiative, ambition, application participation. And then there’s an entire section on those one or two pages where the parent has to comment and another section where the student has to comment. So when you talk about that triangulated relationship. It’s remarkable because you have to have parents and student buy in. Then I’ll fast forward when we were in Tokyo. In Japan, there is this notebook that goes back between the teacher and the family every single day about the student. And you can write anything from you know, Johnny has a tummy ache, or you know, Marcy didn’t understand the homework last night or anything you want. And even though there can be more than 35 students in that classroom, the teacher always writes back.
Teru Clavel 24:28
The relationship is absolutely incredible, and you do talk about the value of family, and absolutely at the dinner table, drive time, right? That’s a perfect time, if you’re in the car a lot during transportation time. What I often think about is, how does a family define education? Like what is that to you? Is it reading books? Is it a certain score on a test? Is it practicing being polite to the people you know, in your neighborhood ? And what is an educated person? And what kind of books do you have in your home? Because to me, one of the most important things you can do is to get books of all genres and I was saying this earlier today to somebody, remember the Encyclopedia Britannica?
Teru Clavel 25:09
And every family had that! So what do we have today?
Teru Clavel 25:14
We have the internet! But we can’t share it because we don’t know what anybody is looking at any given point. And we don’t even know if it’s accurate.
Yeah, Wikipedia is not nearly as accurate as Funk & Wagnells was at my house.
Teru Clavel 25:28
Yeah, I totally get that! I mean, it’s you know, and just having those books around and having reading Knox and even if you don’t have a lot of space, line your hallways with books, and have a few bean bags and model it, carry books around. And I mean, it not that everybody has to do what everybody else is doing, but in our household it’s, “never go anywhere without a book in hand.”
It’s a great, it’s a great lesson. The more you read… reading is everything. You know, I mean, I always tell kids when an intern comes here, I say if you’re not reading every day and not writing, even if it’s a blog, no matter what it is, these are the skills that are really going to help you, self expression and educating yourself. The more you read, the better off you are. Well look this is all fascinating stuff. Again, the name of the book is World Class: One Mother’s Journey Halfway around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Children. Teru Clavel, again, this is a great conversation. Thank you so much for spending the time and again, there’s a lot of great stuff here. I really look forward to digging into this with the wife because I’m sure she’s just gonna keep looking at me like, “I told you so.”
Teru Clavel 26:31
(Laughs) I am sure she will. It’s been an absolute pleasure, Mike, thank you so much for having me.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai