Thursday, January 07, 2010

Lazy American Students response:

Below is an Op Ed that appeared in the Boston Globe recently by a Babson College professor who writes:

Teaching in college, especially one with a large international student population, has given me a stark - and unwelcome - illustration of how Americans' work ethic often pales in comparison with their peers from overseas.

My "C,'' "D,'' and "F'' students this semester are almost exclusively American, while my students from India, China, and Latin America have - despite language barriers - generally written solid papers, excelled on exams, and become valuable class participants.

 Her article quickly became the most read and forwarded on the Globe's web site, and more than 600 people have now posted comments.  There was so much controversy that she wrote a follow-up column, and her dean and a Babson student both wrote articles criticizing her (all are below).


Why?  For having the courage to speak the truth?  On page 16 of my school reform presentation (, I cite three main reasons why a doubling of per pupil, inflation-adjusted spending over the past 40 years has resulted in NO EDUCATIONAL GAINS WHATSOEVER:


1) Teacher quality has been falling rapidly over the past few decades


2) Our school systems have become more bureaucratic and unaccountable


3) I also believe that we, as a nation, have been so rich for so long that we have become lazy and complacent.  Our youth are spending more time watching TV, listening to iPods, playing video games (up 25% in the last four years), going to sporting events, etc. rather than studying hard.


See slides 17 and 18 of my presentation for additional data supporting #3 – they show how much TV we watch relative to other countries, and how many hours of TV our students (especially black and Latino students) watch every weekday relative to hours spent doing homework (the numbers are SHOCKING).


Yet #3 doesn't get talked about much, I think because it invariably leads to the uncomfortable fact that not all young people in the U.S. are kicking back – it's very easy to observe certain groups of students who are busting their butts in school.  For example, I've had a lot of exposure to Judaism and I've never seen a group of people more focused on education – and, after spending time in Israel two summers ago, I saw that this has been true for thousands of years.  Similarly, read the chapter in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers (, about the Chinese and their rice patties – again, over thousands of years – versus what developed in Africa over time.  Gladwell argues persuasively that there are certain cultures (broadly defined) that worship hard work and education – which, by definition, means that there are others that don't – and the results are clear…


However, it would be incorrect to make simple generalizations such as "Asians work hard and blacks don't".  My parents have lived in Africa for the past 14 years (Ethiopia for eight years followed by six in Kenya) and I've never seen people work so hard.  It's much more nuanced, and I think it has to do with the worst aspects of American culture: namely that the longer any group of people are exposed to it, the lazier and more complacent they become (that's what great wealth will do over time). 


This has big implications for schools.  Having visited well over 50 high-performing inner-city schools (not just KIPP schools or charter schools) and speaking to the teachers and leaders of these schools, it's crystal clear that there are vast differences among low-income minority children who are recent immigrants vs. those from families that have been on welfare for multiple generations.  The schools serving the former have their work cut out for them, to be sure (often dealing with students who don't speak English), but recent immigrant students and families, in general, are passionate about education, seeing it (correctly) as the ticket out of poverty and the route to the American Dream. 


The schools serving the latter students have a MUCH harder job because the students and families (regardless of ethnicity – it's true of every group that's multi-generational welfare dependent) have a greater sense of anger, bitterness, entitlement, victimization and hopelessness.  It would be hard to think of five mindset characteristics that are more certain to lead to failure in life – so the schools serving students exposed to this must essentially "deprogram" them so that they'll believe that if the work hard and play by the rules, they can go to college and be successful in life.  This is why I say that the most successful schools serving inner-city kids spend as much time on culture and character as they do on academics – because it's absolutely necessary.


Angel is a perfect example – I don't think it's a coincidence that he was born outside of this country, as were his parents.  An astonishingly high number of low-income, minority youth who overcome the many obstacles in their lives and make something of themselves are recent immigrants (or children thereof).  For example, I was floored when I learned that 80% (!) of students who earned REACH Scholar Awards said that at least one of their parents was born outside of the U.S.  Another data point is an interesting study that was published about three years ago – see this article (, which begins:

The nation's most elite colleges and universities are bolstering their black student populations by enrolling large numbers of immigrants from Africa, the West Indies and Latin America, according to a study published recently in the American Journal of Education.

Immigrants, who make up 13 percent of the nation's college-age black population, account for more than a quarter of black students at Ivy League and other selective universities, according to the study, produced by Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.

This is a VERY touchy subject, but it must be addressed if we're to move forward.

Lazy American Students: After the Deluge

December 23, 2009 05:00 PM

By Kara Miller, Guest Columnist

On Monday, The Boston Globe ran an opinion piece entitled "My Lazy American Students."

In it, I wrote about how teaching in college has shown me that international students often work harder than their American counterparts. Though this is emphatically not true across the board, the work ethic and success of Asian, European, and South American students – who have to compete with a classroom of native English speakers – can be astounding.

Mixed reaction to 'My lazy American students' column

December 26, 2009 02:45 PM

By Matt Rocheleau, Globe Correspondent

A Babson College professor said she drew mixed reaction from colleagues, students, and alumni who felt an op-ed piece she wrote for the Globe last week painted the small private college in a bad light.


Babson dean provides rebuttal on 'lazy American students'


'That is not the way Babson operates,'' Babson College dean Dennis Hanno (inset) wrote of Kara Miller's op-ed piece

By Jason Woods and Matt Rocheleau

Globe Correspondents / December 31, 2009

Babson College's undergraduate dean is taking issue with a recent assertion by one of the Wellesley school's adjunct professors that American students often lack the work ethic of their international peers.


Lazy American students? Uninformed professor!

December 31, 2009 11:37 AM

By Lauren Garey, Guest Columnist

As an American student at Babson College, Kara Miller's article "My Lazy American Students," published on December 21st in the Boston Globe, left me flabbergasted.

 Subscribe in a reader