January/February 2019, Volume 3, Issue 1

American Educational Myths Debunked

When families transition into life in the US one of the top questions on their minds is the US educational system. Most of the time there are a lot of myths attached to the American way of educating children. In this brief article I will debunk some myths and provide you with some facts. It is hard enough settling into a new culture, but battling misleading information should not be on your list. Below are four top myths about the US educational system:

Myth #1: American schools are not as good as schools in the rest of the world.

It is true that in international comparisons, the US has had some disappointing scores in Mathematics and Science studies, but that doesn't mean you can't get an excellent education in the US. In fact, in the TIMSS – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, students in some US states like Massachusetts, Minnesota and Colorado all scored at the top levels, along with Finland, Russia and Hong Kong. If you are relocating to the US and have school aged students, you will be well advised to search for and know that you will find a great education for your children.

Myth #2: Asian countries score high so you should look for a school that teaches the Asian way.

Yes, many educators are looking at what teachers in high-scoring countries do; one way they can achieve better performance is to cover fewer topics in more depth. But be aware that some Eastern cultures are looking to the Western cultures for expanded learning opportunities. To focus only on test scores robs children of exploratory learning. Studies have shown that this type of fixation stunts educational growth and limits opportunities to cultivate creativity. To achieve a better balance for your children, look at schools that provide a challenging atmosphere coupled with exploratory creative learning opportunities. This type of environment will give your children balance in their education that is more in alignment with today's educational mindset.

Myth #3: Some students are just bad at subjects like math or art; there's not much they can do except to choose other subjects.

This is simply not so. Some subjects may be easier for some students than for others, but effort and the belief that effort makes a difference have been shown to improve student scores and student success. A Japanese teacher once told me that she was surprised to hear one of her student's say, "I can't draw, so I won't even try." In Japan, a teacher would not accept that form of self-judgment and will insist on perfection. A statement like that would imply, "I can't read, so I won't even try." In the US a when a teacher hears a student make such a remark, they will encourage the child to try and to not give up. They will encourage the child to practice, because practice helps students gain confidence. The attitude behind this mindset is there is always room for improvement, you don't have to be perfect, but trying is half the battle. This idea stems from the deep rooted belief in the US of "effort optimism," the idea that you will succeed in your own way. The two comparisons may be similar, but the mindset is not, in one culture perfection is the expectation, in the other, the idea of trying, even if you are not great at it is the lesson in and of itself.

Myth #4: American schools emphasize sport and clubs more than academic excellence.

Being a well-rounded person is an American value and a well rounded student is prepared to be an open learner who excels in team work, sports and civic duty as well as leadership qualities. This value stems from elementary education all the way through university, unlike some countries where the sole admission criterion is a test score. Being part of the US education system will include a broad definition of what Americans call "excellence," but that doesn't mean that in the US educational system academics are ignored, quite the contrary, getting into university requires students to be academically successful as well being able to show their ability to be well-rounded by participating in civic groups, extra-curricular programs and/or being physically active through sports and recreational activities.

I end this piece with the following: "You are a foreigner everywhere, except in your own culture". Candida Marques – Global Arrival © 2019.

Moral Reasoning and Culture

Culture affects how people behave towards and with one another. Consider the following:

You are riding in a car driven by a close friend. He hits a pedestrian. You know he was going at least 35 miles per hour in an area where the maximum allowed limit was 20 miles per hour. There are no witnesses. His lawyer says that if you testify under oath that he was only driving 20 miles per hour, it may save him from serious consequences. What right does your friend have to expect you to protect him? And what do you think you would do in view of the obligations of a sworn witness and obligation to your friend?

This dilemma was posed to people in 50+ countries around the world by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner,* and the results have become part of intercultural understanding.

The US, Canada, Australia and virtually all of northern Europe all scored strongly in the Universalist direction – 87% or more of the participants from these countries (93% in the US) said they would not lie in court to help their friend. But in other parts of the world, more than 50% of the participants said they would testify and lie for a friend in court. Why? Out of obligation to a close friend and/or to protect the friend from what they feared would be unfair treatment by law enforcement and the legal system.

And what's more: For Universalists, the worse the pedestrian injury, the more likely they were to say they would tell the truth in court. But for Particularists, the worse the injury; the more likely they were to protect their friend. Everyone's moral reasoning was deeply shaped by their notion of competing loyalties to relationships vs. abstract principles. Some of the abstract principles also lay in the notion of how the legal system is set up in some parts of the world. Are they fair to those who break the law? Or are they extremely punitive?. It all depends on the deep rooted ways in which societies operate.

Think of the opposing and conflicting thoughts between the two ways of behaving, thinking and feeling.

  • A Universalists would say, "I wouldn't trust a particularistic – he'll always help his friend."
  • A Particularists would say, "I wouldn't trust a universalist – he wouldn't even help his friend."

It is this type of perspective that is the core of intercultural understanding and learning in global organizations today. But we can use our intercultural knowledge to understand these two opposing points of view. Here's what Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner found: Across the globe, people responded to the driver/pedestrian dilemma very differently. In countries labeled "universalist", (because they make decisions based on universal standards), people said that the friend had no right to expect protection and/or that the friend might have some right to expect it but even so, they wouldn't lie under oath to protect him. In countries labeled "particularistic" (because they make decisions based on obligations to particular people they know), people were more likely to say they would testify to protect their friend.

Think about these two points of view in your organization when working with your teams, your employees and your leaders, just because someone protects another or doesn't does not mean they are being malicious or mean or disloyal, it simply means the ways in which they were conditioned to respond to relationships may differ than your own. This type of thinking helps us to avoid judging others.

*Trompenaars, F.& Hampden-Turner, C. (1998) Riding the Waves of Culture. McGraw-Hill.

I end this piece with the following: "Relationships across the globe are different from culture-to-culture, the ability to see how an individual responds to a relationship vs. a task is crucial to your understanding your working environment and will help you to determine how to best get along with everyone." Candida Marques – Global Arrival © 2019.

What Are You Wearing?

What are the messages we send about ourselves every day? Knowingly or unknowingly we are saying something about ourselves when we get up in the morning, fix our hair, slip on our shoes, pick out our jacket and walk out the door.

People transmit signals about who they are in many different ways – including fashion and physical appearance. Do you wear bright colors or only black, is your hair neatly cut or scruffy, do you wear modest or revealing clothing – all these choices send a message about the kind of person you are, at least within your own culture. But what happens when you are in a new country?

Based on a study of 152 men and women all spanning a range of nationalities and ages, all of whom had lived in a country other than their own, confirmed the hypothesis that people make assumptions about others based on their physical appearance. When the participants were asked about first impressions of others, they connected appearance to a person's personality, interests and skills.

When in a different culture, however, physical appearance, perceptions their attitudes got misinterpreted. When asked what people are trying to convey through their appearance, the participants from 32 countries around the world often reported the desire to project an air of elegance, competence, and beauty. The suit that may feel chic in one country maybe be not acceptable in a different country. The casual slacks and t-shirt, what we in America call "comfort clothing," may be rejected by others from a different culture.

Cultural values play an important role in a person's identity. Respondents judged the appropriateness of a co-worker's outfit leniently if they were from cultures that value individual freedom and emphasize egalitarian relationships with peers and superiors. For participants from collectivist, cultures, clothing was an important aspect of the self, to be protected and defended, whereas, for those from individualistic cultures, clothing was less connected to their core identity.

What do you say about yourself when you get up and get dressed to go to work every day? What do your co-workers say? What does your organization say about their cultural values by the way their managers and leaders dress? Interesting thought, right? The way we groom and dress ourselves everyday is very much a part of the way our culture has conditioned us.

Rule of thumb: "Be in touch with how you project yourself in the workplace. Open yourself up to the possibility that you may need to adjust the way your carry yourself, groom yourself and dress in order to feel confident and accepted in a foreign culture." Candida Marques – Global Arrival © 2019.

Reach out to Candida at: 908-625-2267, www.globalarrival.com, [email protected] so that Global Arrival can help you and your organization lead effectively in foreign cultures.

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