Archives: 05/2008

Hard Work, Culture, and Private Education

When it comes to international academic assessments, especially in math and science, a few Asian countries regularly kick world posterior. Many observers chalk this up to these countries having national curricula, but this seems a specious conclusion given that most of the countries that do worse than Asian nations—and sometimes even worse than the U.S.—have national curricula, too.

A couple of additional—and quite likely more accurate—potential secrets of Asian success are touched on in a Saturday Washington Post article about South Korea:

South Koreans are working up a lather over working too much.

They put in far more time on the job than citizens of any other free-market democracy. Compared to Americans, they average 560 more hours at work a year – the equivalent of 70 more eight-hour days. And that is down significantly from the go-go 1990s.

In the OECD, they rank second to last in leisure spending, first in suicide and last in bearing children.

Despite the dearth of children, South Korea leads the OECD in per capita spending on private education, which often includes home tutors, after-school cram sessions and intensive English-language courses.

South Koreans, it seems, rely not primarily on government schooling as we do, but abundant private options, including tutoring companies that appear to be almost ubiquitous in many Asian nations. Indeed, in 2002 Education Week reported that in Japan “more than 50,000 private cram schools are taking in some $12 billion a year by some estimates.”

The massive consumption of private education is not the only likely explanation for outstanding Asian academic performance. So too is the culture that drives that consumption: As the Post highlights, Koreans put more emphasis on work than the citizens of any other industrialized nation. Of course, that appears to be a double-edged sword, probably yielding great testing outcomes but, as the suicide and income data in the article hint, not necessarily outsized success in life—or happiness. And while national academic standards and tests don’t likely create academic success, they could very well exacerbate the ugly side of Korean culture, taking an already work-obsessed mindset and forcing it on those students and families who might find happiness—and long-term success—in other ways.

L-1: The Technology Company in Your Pocket

Inspired by the promotional brochure I recently came across, I’ve taken a look at L-1 Identity Solutions in a new Cato TechKnowledge. Though it has better options, L-1 and its new acquisition, Digimarc ID Systems, seem likely to continue lobbying for the REAL ID Act. My concluding line: “A corporate lobbying operation can do as much harm to liberty as any government agency or official.”

California: Poster Child for Poor Fiscal Management

On Wednesday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is releasing his revised budget proposal against a backdrop of a massive deficit.  In my op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, I lay out the background of the “fiscal crisis” in the state (too much spending) and point out a few specific programs the governor can terminate.  Enacting a spending limit and working to increase the use of public-private partnerships would be great, but this year’s budget debate highlights the need to also eliminate programs, cut spending (not merely spending growth) and refocus the state government on its core functions. 

Not from California?  Your state has also likely forgotten the lessons of the 1990s and may have its own “crisis” brewing. 

‘Testilying’

“Testilying” is a term that police officers use to describe false testimony they give in court so that an otherwise illegal search or arrest can be justified.  It’s hard to tell how common the practice is, but it’s much more common than most people want to believe.

This New York Times report is telling.  First, we don’t know how many illegal searches and arrests take place because, as Federal Judge John Martin observes, “We don’t have statistics for all the people who are hassled, no gun is found, and they never get into the system.”  These are low-visibility state offenses that we might call state misdemeanors.  They happen all over but more often in the poorer neighborhoods.  Who would go to the trouble of consulting a lawyer for an illegal 10 minute police stop and pat-down?  How many lawyers would bother to take such a case if someone did walk in off the street with such a complaint?

Next come the cases where the police find contraband and go to court with a fabricated story in order to try and get a conviction.  In a system where such conduct goes unpunished, it’s safe to say we’re going to get more of it.  And the cops who skirt the rules are likely to rise through the ranks faster.  After all, they have many more arrests to their credit than their peers.

Note the utter indifference of the police and prosecutors to reports of testilying.

Kudos to the New York Times for this “revealing glimpse” of our troubled system.  For some related Cato work, go here and here

Democrats for Educational Freedom

A piece by Ron Matus in today’s St. Petersburg Times is the latest media acknowledgement of growing Democratic support for educational freedom. The expansion of Florida’s k-12 scholarship donation tax credit program, which I blogged about last week, was not a narrow party-line affair. The bill was approved by 82 to 34 in the House and by 30 to 9 in the Senate.

One of the reasons for this shift is growing personal experience among Democratic lawmakers with the programs and the families who use them.

[Democrat Bill] Heller voted against the bill in committee. But then he visited the Yvonne C. Reed Christian School in St. Petersburg and talked to parents who use tax-credit vouchers. He said they changed his mind.

Think about that. The more personal experience legislators have with market education reforms, the more likely they are to support their expansion. The more these programs expand, the more personal experience legislators will have with them…. Get the picture?

Just another reason I expect to see real educational freedom in America in my lifetime.

Harold & Kumar Discover the Spirit of America

Four years ago the movie Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was celebrated mostly as a “stoner” movie: smart young Asian guys smoke pot and get the munchies. When I finally got around to watching it, it was funnier than I expected. And very near the end of the movie, after an all-night road trip in which they encountered more obstacles than Odysseus, when Harold finally gives up and says he can’t make the last leg of the epic journey to White Castle, came this wonderful speech from Kumar:

So, you think this is just about the burgers, huh? Let me tell you, it’s about far more than that. Our parents came to this country, escaping persecution, poverty and hunger. Hunger, Harold. They were very, very hungry. They wanted to live in a land that treated them as equals, a land filled with hamburger stands. And not just one type of hamburger, okay? Hundreds of types with different sizes, toppings, and condiments. That land was America! America, Harold! America! Now this is about achieving what our parents set out for. This is about the pursuit of happiness. This night … is about the American Dream! Dude, we can stay here, get arrested, and end our hopes of ever going to White Castle. Or, we can take that hang glider and make our leap towards freedom. I leave the decision up to you.

Escaping persecution, poverty and hunger … to find ample food and unlimited choices … the pursuit of happiness … the American Dream. Yes, I think writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg were on to something.

And now comes the sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. After another improbable road trip, the fugitive youths literally drop in on George W. Bush’s Texas ranch. In the increasingly fantastic plot, the president invites them to join him in hiding from the scary Cheney, shares his pot with them, and then promises to clear up the unfortunate misunderstanding that landed them in Guantanamo Bay. An uninhibited but still skeptical Kumar says, “I’m not sure I trust our government any more, sir.” And President Bush delivers this ringing libertarian declaration:

Hey, I’m in the government, and I don’t even trust it. You don’t have to trust your government to be a patriot. You just have to trust your country.

Harold & Kumar: more wisdom than a month of right-wing talk radio. Hurwitz and Schlossberg get what America is about.