I didn’t want to like Amanda Ripley’s book. Perhaps it’s the title which assumes an objective view of “smart” and a competition approach to learning…perhaps it’s because she’s a young journalist writing about what works in education. If the reverse where true, I don’t think many people would flock to my class on journalism…but so it goes with education. Those on the outside seem to be trusted most.

Anyhow, my husband bought it for me so I thought I’d give it a go.

And it’s good!

In the prologue she outlines why she set out to write this book. She was frustrated that “education stories seemed, well, kind of soft.” And that education pundits were “maddeningly abstract” and “offered vague explanations for success.” She wanted to find out what kids were doing in three countries that scored well on the PISA test, asking questions such as, “What were they doing at ten on a Tuesday morning? What did their parents say to them when they got home? Were they happy?”

So she followed three American teenagers as they spent a year as exchange students in Korea, Finland and Poland. She says:

“I asked them about their parents, schools and lives in both places. Their answers changed the way I thought about our problems and our strengths. They knew what distinguished an American education, for better for for worse, and they did not mind telling.” (p. 9)

Excited to find out what the teenagers said and Ripley’s conclusions? Me too.

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