Literary Recommendation of "Živojin Mišić" Association

„The smartest kids in the world“, Amanda Ripley


Literary recommendations have always been a delicate work, especially in the world of educators. We can measure the recommendation according to the person who suggests the choice, according to the printing of the book, according to personal education. In any case, we are almost always suspicious of the recommendations and somehow already in our heads, "we are “braking". That is the natural state of educators, we would say. Still, we dare to recommend to the readers of this blog the book by Mrs. Amanda Ripley "The smartest kids in the world and how they got that way". The first association with her last name can certainly be a column in Mr. Ripley's "Politkin Zabavnik" "Believe it or not?" In some chapters, the book really leaves doubts.

In this book, Amanda Ripley for the first time "wandered" into the issue of education, from which, according to her honest statement, she fled all her working life (she wrote the most columns on human behavior and public policy in prestigious magazines, "Time", "The Atlantic ", and "State "). In the book, Amanda honestly, openly, surgically precisely, explores American education and the results of various tests. In recent years, PISA results have been more than devastating and certainly disturbing for a country the size and strength of America in terms of financial investment. Amanda is trying to explain to herself and her readers why America has not become an educational superpower so far and how the educational systems of the PISA superpowers have actually been formulated. 

She clearly warns of the need to reset the American educational system, if it wants to pretend to be among the best in the world. The book was written from several aspects and from several angles, from the position of students, parents, principals, teachers, ministers, journalists. The center of the book are three brave American teenagers, Kim, Eric and Tim, who decide to leave their country for a year in the intercultural education program and study and stay in Finland, South Korea and Poland. Following them on their personal and educational level, Amanda describes, understands and analyzes the crises of American teenagers who enter a completely different education system compared to the one they left in their country. They experience ups and downs, identity crises, perceptions of the knowledge they bring and those they find in Finland, Poland, Korea. She seems to have most accurately explored the differences between the Korean and American education systems. While she considers American parents to be rooters in their children's education, she considers Korean mothers to be the captains of their children's lives.

Despite the huge investments in modern equipment and technology in America, the writer claims that American children are overprotected by system with the possibility of repeating and saving tests, until they do them properly. American parents give uninterrupted and unreserved support to sports activities and the development of their children's personality, neglecting the necessary skills necessary in the 21st century, primarily knowledge of mathematics and taking final tests. Unlike American parents, Korean parents are far more aggressive and interested in educating their children. Both parents and children know very well that by successfully passing the graduation exam and enrolling in three prestigious faculties, they are building their future, security, good job and quality of life. Eric (who spent a year in Korea) was fascinated by the first days of school when half of his classmates fell asleep (which is considered quite normal in a country of hard work and ambitious demands). Korean children spend 12 hours in school, have lunch, rest, tidy up kitchens, toilets, classrooms, do their homework and then around 9pm00go to their expensive hagwons (private lessons) with selected teachers who are paid dearly by their parents. Enormous work, discipline and training brought them to the very top of PISA testing. 

The complete opposite of the Korean system is the American one, which is relaxed, stimulating for the child and the family, but with very little and inoperative knowledge and negligible mathematical and scientific literacy. Ms. Amanda not only entered the schools of the mentioned countries, but also had clear precise and useful conversations with school principals, Ministers of Education, creator of PISA testing, parents, students… She studied not only the school, but also the attitudes of students, family atmosphere and society, when it comes to education as an imperative or as a need. Her questions are clear, direct, focused and scanning. She described the impressive atmosphere during the Korean graduation exam in a particularly good way. The atmosphere is described in detail. 

However, Amanda states that the Finnish system is closest to her because it represents a reasonable balance between Korean and American. In Finland, parents trust the system and the teacher, children understand that education is a very important item in their lives and possess strong internal motivation to work and learn. Finnish teachers have fought and enrolled in prestigious teacher training colleges and have a very large and quality education. The country invests significant sums of money in the education of Finnish teachers. Amanda does not dispute and openly supports the support of American parents or their children. She thinks that it is useful in a healthy form and notes that American teenagers have a developed line of literary literacy. She believes that this literacy has been nurtured since the early age of children, because American parents read to their children in three ways: 1. A group of parents read, so that both they and the children forget what they read, but it is important to read; 2.A group of parents read, because they like to read on their own, and by reading with their soul, they show a passion for books. The 3rd group of parents reads to the children, asking the children to retell, to explain and inform them about what they have read. In these children (whose number does not exceed 10%), parents develop the concept of debate, critical attitude, exchange of information, their usefulness… Therefore, reading must be guided and organized, and not spontaneous. Through the warm, noble and relaxed atmosphere created by reading the book, the author essentially enters the quality and importance of education in a world form.

Amanda emphasizes the ways in which work in mathematics is encouraged, by solving serious mathematical problems and a special kind of logical training. This book is clear, sharp, cautious and accusing, measured and directed, but certainly useful to every educator in Serbia. Positive reviews from respectable sources in America, clearly speak of the quality of the book and the skill of writing journalists. Unlike other books, it clearly explains and disarms all its readers. Amanda finds the foundation in her views in the serious literature and sources she cites at the end of the book. Appendix 1-11, Notes, References, Index of Words, speak clearly about the book, but also the seriousness of Amanda Ripley’s work. The book is both a bestseller and a textbook and a guide on how to do it or not. It is written in English (American) but it should not be an obstacle for you to read it using good digital tools.

We warmly recommend it.

And finally, we would like to share with you the guiding thought of every Finn:

„There was a word in Finnish, sisu (pronounced SEE-su). It meant strength in the face of great odds, but more than that, a sort of inner fire.*** It is compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity,“ 

Time magazine published a story about Finland in 1940, and this is a quote we would single out: „of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win.“

You can order the book through Amazonaor read it through one of the digital reading apps.

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