A few weeks ago, a couple of Japanese scholars dropped by
the Fordham Institute offices for a visit. This happens every so
often—delegations of foreigners make the Washington ed-policy circuit, seeking
a better understanding of America’s schools. As with most Asian visitors I
meet, these gentlemen were curious about how we manage to produce so many
innovative leaders. They want a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs, or a Mark Zuckerberg
of their own.
To which I replied: “You’re looking in the wrong place. It
has nothing to do with our schools.”
This isn’t meant as a knock on our school system. But from
ages zero to eighteen, our young people spend about 9 percent of their lives in
class. Isn’t it likely that the other 91 percent contributes more to such
attributes as their creativity or willingness to question authority?
I asked my visitors what Japanese adolescents do when they
aren’t in school?
“They attend cram school,” was the answer. Uh huh.
American kids, on the other hand, are engaged in all manner
of extra-curricular activities: Sports, music, theater, student council,
cheerleading, volunteering, church activities, and on and on.* If you are
looking for sources of...