3.23.2010

Oh, hell, sure, let's follow the Tajik example

Over at Fighting Bob, John Smart is still rambling on about Tajikistan. You see, he met this one exchange student who spoke three languages, and suddenly he starts saying things like this:
He's from Tajikistan, and just turned 16. Considering his age, he should probably be a high school sophomore, but he already has enough credits to graduate from any high school in this country, so he's a senior. He has had three years each of algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics, biology, world history and much, much more. He has studied three languages: Tajik, Russian and English, and is now taking Spanish because, "I only speak three languages." Tajikistan! Do you even know where that is?
Actually, I do, John; and let's do talk about Tajikistan for a moment, shall we? (Let's do it after the jump.)


Let's start with your example student, even. I'm sure he's a bright kid -- hell, he's probably over here on a US-funded FLEX exchange program. That means he's cream of the crop -- which, after all, you'd expect. So it's actually not at all that novel that he's multilingual: Russian and Tajik exist pretty much side-by-side there; given that you don't seem to know where Tajikistan is, you might not be aware that they were part of the Soviet Union, but they were, and so Russian is ridiculously common, of course. And English is usually the primary language taught in the area, so most students will have basic training in the language -- about like how most students in the US have some basic training in Spanish. But if my time in Azerbaijan is any indication, most students -- the vast majority -- come out knowing only enough to shout "How are you?" at hapless tourists. Don't worry -- they don't really get the answer, "I'm fine."

So that's cool -- your kid did some work, really wanted to learn a language, and did. Cool. That depends on individual motivation. Because he's not going to get it from the curriculum. See, UNICEF will tell you that that is 10 years out of date, and follows a Soviet pedagogy to boot. So teachers lecture and students write in their books, and nothing really sticks, unless, again, the student is unusually motivated -- like yours is. The teaching style is terrible.

The funny thing is, we seem to be keeping up there. Have you heard of the Milwaukee Public School system? Their curriculum is crap, and their teachers are unmotivated. That's thanks to their union. They don't want to bother with improvements.

And then there are the teachers there. They're corrupt. In fact, they're pretty much the definition of corrupt: you pay for your grades. Now, maybe you're a good student, and you're motivated -- you still pay for your grades.

Of course, WEAC has a quicker route to the same bank: they hold the taxpayers hostage every time they can, demanding more for the same poor performance. They've surpassed Tajikistan there -- why bother checking every student off your list when you can just bilk the public coffers?

And in Tajikistan, there's much less in the way of school choice. If your student's school was failing him, he couldn't got elsewhere. The only private university defied an order to close last year. The government is about the only option. WEAC wouldn't mind that situation much either, I suspect -- certainly they'd prefer not to have to compete with private schools or voucher programs.

Do you really want to keep up with Tajikistan, John? WEAC has us on about the right path for that.