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Standards of education

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Standards of education

Postby keatonatron » Thu 11.02.2006 10:55 am

This post stems from observations I've made over a long period of time, as well as things people have said on this forum from time to time.

I'm curious as to what is considered "general knowledge" in various locations. Listening to people on this forum, it would appear that the US is supposed to be notorious for having a horrible education system. However, on occasion Japanese acquaintances have not known things that I considered to be general knowledge for anyone from a 1st world country. Is this difference real, or am I just smarter than the average American?

The subject that stood out the most is geography.

I was talking to a Japanese woman (mid 30's) today, and she didn't know where the Nile is. Her first guess was Brazil. Her second guess was south Africa. Is there anyone on this forum that doesn't know that the Nile is in Egypt?? I've known that since elementary school, and the knowledge that it's the longest river in the world also seems pretty universal.

Another Japanese person had no idea what Athens is. I told them it's a city in Greece, and they didn't know where that is. This was all in Japanese, by the way (they knew the name Athens, but didn't know what it is).

I think the worst was in my Japanese language class. A Chinese classmate couldn't even point out China on the world map :o

I haven't talked to anyone about other topics that much, so it's hard to judge how they do with other subjects. I can understand if they don't know details about American history, but one person I asked had no idea who Neil Armstrong was or what year he went to the moon.

Has anyone eles noticed a different in general information like this? (Not only in Japan, but when going to other countries as well)
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RE: Standards of education

Postby BetterSense » Thu 11.02.2006 11:15 am

It stands to reason that you could make a linguistic argument.

As an english speaker there are a great many linguistic ties to other languages, whereas Japanese is a bit of a niche language. Indeed, we can mostly contain the japanese sound system in our language, but the converse is not true by a long shot. We can write 'Tatakai', but they have to write ファイト. There are lot of latin, germanic or romantic similarities that allow us to be comfortable with things that originate in some foreign languages, but when the language is wildly different it makes things harder. It's awkward when a subject doesn't even fit into the sound system of your language and can't be spelled with your alphabet. I've noticed in my history class, that nobody has any trouble remembering or saying 'Athens' but they seem to glaze over or even refuse to pronounce 'Nagashino', and don't even consider making them learn how to spell 長篠.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby Nibble » Thu 11.02.2006 11:37 am

People tend to know things that are in some way relevant to them, and what is relevant varies by location. Athens and the Nile aren't particularly relevant to Japan, historically or culturally, so it's not surprising that many Japanese would be ignorant about them. I'm sure that someone from mainland China would be surprised to hear that most Canadians don't know what the Yellow River is and why it's important; where Xi'an is; that Confucius was a real person and he never said "Baseball wrong -- man with four balls not able to walk;" or who Norman Bethune (a Canadian) is. I'd wager that most Chinese people consider these things to be common knowledge.

I don't know about the Chinese guy who couldn't find China on a map, but I doubt that he's representative of the Chinese.
Last edited by Nibble on Thu 11.02.2006 11:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby keatonatron » Thu 11.02.2006 2:26 pm

Well, the Nile isn't particularly related to me either. It just seems to be known as one of the significant places of the world, just like Mount Fuji. How many Canadians know where Mt. Fuji is? :D

And I don't think linguistics would have much to do with it, because the names would just be simplified into Japanese characters, which Japanese people can easily pronounce (e.g. ナイル -- there's only one possible pronunciation). English has so many pronunciation rules, that it's hard for us to guess the pronunciation of something we haven't heard of before.

Maybe I have an advantage... when I was in middle school, we were forced to memorize the location of every country in the world. For the test they gave us a blank map with only boundries drawn in, and we had to name every country.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby lemonaid » Thu 11.02.2006 3:04 pm

Egypt is very much an exclusive part of the West's history because of Europe's long involvement there. Napoleon's troop acquired the Rosetta Stone and Jean-François Champollion ultimately deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs because of it. Egyptian treasures are found in every major European and North-American museum, and contributed to the creation of a character very familiar to most of us; namely Indiana Jones.
So you see, it's not at all strange that we tend to know more about that place than do other cultures.

;)
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RE: Standards of education

Postby Chris Hart » Thu 11.02.2006 3:33 pm

keatonatron -
You must have never seen Street Smarts. You would be amazed at the answers people give. I remember one where the person on the street was asked "Who is the current president of the United States?" IIRC, the person answered "Thomas Jefferson".
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RE: Standards of education

Postby clay » Thu 11.02.2006 4:02 pm

My first real culture shock of this type was when a Chinese (mainland) friend had no idea who the Beatles were. (This was in Japan)
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RE: Standards of education

Postby akuseru » Thu 11.02.2006 6:21 pm

Chris Hart wrote:
keatonatron -
You must have never seen Street Smarts. You would be amazed at the answers people give. I remember one where the person on the street was asked "Who is the current president of the United States?" IIRC, the person answered "Thomas Jefferson".


Also, when asked "Who is Condoleeza Rice?", somebody replied "I think I just ate that at a restaurant,"
My history teacher told me that when I was in middle school, I thought it was the funniest thing ever.
People in the US can be so stupid sometimes, it makes me want to move somewhere else.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby Infidel » Thu 11.02.2006 6:56 pm

Also, when asked "Who is Condoleeza Rice?", somebody replied "I think I just ate that at a restaurant,"


It's not as if she's important. In fact, I don't think I've seen her name or face anywhere before you mentioned it and I looked it up on wiki. In the U.S, the only name the average American needs to know is the President's. Someone policitally active may want to know a few more, but there is no real benefit to knowing more. You can pretend that knowing matters, until you write your senator concerning education, and receive a form letter thanking you for your interest in improved gun control laws. Names are irrelevant, it's actions that matter.

Knowing the name of a goverment official isn't any more useful than knowing the name of an incomming hurricane, what matters is how you respond to the threat, not whether you can name it to some guy taking a survey. When you see a shark swimming in the water, do you wonder what the shark's name is? Maybe it's Fred. Do you shout, There's a Fred in the water to other swimmers, so they know who the threat is?

Remember that everyone has different priorities in life and just because someone else's don't match yours doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them. And never forget that a lot of people deliberatly answer incorrectly, especially when they know they are being recorded.

The fact is, most of these questions people get asked are all irrelevant.
Last edited by Infidel on Thu 11.02.2006 7:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby akuseru » Thu 11.02.2006 7:07 pm

Remember that everyone has different priorities in life and just because someone else's don't match yours doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them.


I wasn't saying anything against them not knowing who Condoleeza Rice is, I don't even know for sure who she is.
The point was that the question was "Who is Condoleeza Rice?", not "What is Condoleeza Rice?" Obviously, you would have to infer that Condoleeza Rice was a person, it only makes sense, but this person evidently did not realize that.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby Infidel » Thu 11.02.2006 7:17 pm

akuseru wrote:
Remember that everyone has different priorities in life and just because someone else's don't match yours doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them.


I wasn't saying anything against them not knowing who Condoleeza Rice is, I don't even know for sure who she is.
The point was that the question was "Who is Condoleeza Rice?", not "What is Condoleeza Rice?" Obviously, you would have to infer that Condoleeza Rice was a person, it only makes sense, but this person evidently did not realize that.


My point, was that the person was obviously making a joke, for the same reason you cited.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby akuseru » Thu 11.02.2006 7:27 pm

Infidel wrote:
akuseru wrote:
Remember that everyone has different priorities in life and just because someone else's don't match yours doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them.


I wasn't saying anything against them not knowing who Condoleeza Rice is, I don't even know for sure who she is.
The point was that the question was "Who is Condoleeza Rice?", not "What is Condoleeza Rice?" Obviously, you would have to infer that Condoleeza Rice was a person, it only makes sense, but this person evidently did not realize that.


My point, was that the person was obviously making a joke, for the same reason you cited.


Hm.
I don't see why anyone would do that, but I don't understand most people in the United States, so it's not like that's a surprise to me.
Don't you think somebody might be a little embarassed by that, though? I would. I mean, it's one thing to say that to someone you know well, but it's completely another thing to say it to some stranger.
-shrug- I don't get why anyone would do something dumb like that, but I guess I agree, seeing as it would make more sense than someone just being ignorant of the question.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby hyperconjugated » Thu 11.02.2006 7:31 pm

Infidel wrote:
It's not as if she's important. In fact, I don't think I've seen her name or face anywhere before you mentioned it and I looked it up on wiki. In the U.S, the only name the average American needs to know is the President's.

Who's really calling the shot?!
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RE: Standards of education

Postby Infidel » Thu 11.02.2006 7:36 pm

I don't see why people make prank phone calls, or other practical jokes. I consider the jokes very un-funny, and extremely rude. I don't see what is so interesting about "reality" shows where that encourage the worst behavior possible in the people. I find dignity and respect more appealing, apparently, than most people.

People in the U.S. are not exceptional. Once you go over a few fences you realize that the grass really isn't greener on the other side.
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RE: Standards of education

Postby chikara » Thu 11.02.2006 10:00 pm

keatonatron wrote:Is this difference real, or am I just smarter than the average American?

I don't know if having a broader knowledge of general facts makes you smarter but from my experience you, and a few other regulars from the USA on this forum, have a higher level of general knowledge than the majority of people from the US that I have met.

The subject that stood out the most is geography...........Has anyone eles noticed a different in general information like this? (Not only in Japan, but when going to other countries as well)

There is definitely a difference in the geography that natives of different countries know but it is not consistent with the linguistic argument. I speak (Australian) English and people from the USA speak (American) English. I can name the 50 states of the USA but how many people in the USA could name the 6 states of Australia.

This is not so much a difference in the "standard of education" but more a question of the focus on the curriculum. I learnt the 50 states of the USA in school along with numerous other facts about the USA and other countries as well.

People from the USA have a stereotype in other countries as generally being ignorant. I have met many "Americans" with a broad general knowledge but have also been surprised by how little some very intelligent "Americans" know about the world outside the USA. When my wife was working at the Mayo Clinic she was regularly pointing out to people where Australia was on a globe that they had in her unit. Most people had heard of it but surprisingly few actually new where it was. On the other hand we visited an Amish community and when we were introduced as Australians this Amish gentleman asked me if it was true that there are more sheep in Australia than people. He actually new quite a bit about Australia and even that it is in the Southern Hemisphere.

My theory on this is that as a country of 300 million people there is so much happening within the USA that a lot people don't spend much time, if any, looking outwards. As a result their knowledge of geography outside their borders is limited.

I also believe that you can't generalise and say that all people from country X are ignorant of geography. There are certainly a lot of people in this country that don't have a clue. The radio station I listen to on the drive to work each morning has a quiz where the contestant can win $1000 if the answer 10 general knowledge questions correctly in 60 seconds. The other morning one of the questions was "What country is Helsinki the capital of?". The woman answered "Japan".
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