This basic education question has been on the minds of parents and politicians alike, as the U.S. and its families determine the best possible future for America's youths. It seems that in much of the current news media, we hear two vastly different perspectives.
On one side of the spectrum, we see the very bleak side of the American educational system- school shootings, failing test scores, and high rates of high school drop-outs.
I had one friend quit her teaching job in an inner-city New York City school halfway through the year because her third-graders were bringing knives into school and the principal refused to do anything about it.
On the other side of the spectrum lies the total opposite problem- where U.S. students are so over-committed and pushed to achieve that they lose any semblance of childhood.
Parents quit their jobs to help children prepare for college applications. Kindergarteners are red-shirted, so they can better compete against their peers. One second grader might have have tennis lessons, ballet class, soccer practice, swim team, special enrichment tutoring, piano and violin lessons, art classes, and Spanish or Chinese language tutoring all in one week!
But the educational dilemma in the U.S. isn't just isolated on two extreme sides within this country. As the documentary 2 Million Minutes points out, the high school years aren't just monumental for the students involved. They may also influence the economic future of the country.
With multinational corporations spreading their wings across the globe, American students aren't just competing with 300 million Americans, but about 6.6 billion people worldwide.
As international barriers decrease, competition increases, which can lead to unique business dynamics. For example, many U.S. telephone service jobs, which initially outsourced to Indian companies, have been outsourced back from the Indian companies to the U.S.
So, what should American students do? Even though high school test scores are still behind the global leaders, some students have schedules that are so jam-packed with things to do, they barely have time to sleep.
Some critics maintain that the U.S. system offers students more flexibility, enabling them to become more successful members in society, versus the rote memorization and intense drills of Chinese schools. Others say that today's American super-students, who must excel at academics, athletics, community service, or music. There are parents who complain that their students don't have sufficient intellectual challenges, whereas others fear their babies have too much pressure to achieve.
These debates won't go away any time soon, but at the same time, neither will the increased reality of international competition. Whlie the U.S. continues to have the best universities and largest economy in the world, with 2.4 billion people living in India and China alone, Americans are definitely outnumbered.