Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Panama Canal

Somehow I brought up the Panama Canal at an eisa party last night.  Nobody at the table had heard of it, which left me a little dumbfounded.  But it also sparked an interesting discussion about the differences between material taught in our schools.  I mentioned that in my experience Japanese students aren't well-versed in geography or world history.  (Case in point: nobody at the table knew Patagonia was a region in the world and not just a brand name.)  My goal was [absolutely] not to come off as the more educated person at the table, so I offered that I thought Japanese students are better at science and math.

But to tell you the truth, I don't know where Japanese students excel.  They go to school significantly more days (for example, we're wrapping up our 1.5 week break between school years right now) and the days are longer (7:30-4 or 5, plus many mainland students attend night schools) than what we do in the U.S, but I never meet anybody with the book smarts I'd expect from so much education.  I'm by no means an authority on this - I don't speak the language well and I only have a couple friends whom I know well.  And Japan has some pretty big things going for it: Toyota, Sony, Canon and Nikon, and the world's second-largest economy.  Clearly something is working.  But I am repeatedly surprised at the ignorance towards things I consider common sense.  Which makes me wonder, what do they expect me to know that I don't?

The conversation did (thankfully) come back to this interesting observation:  a girl said "I don't understand why Americans eat beef and chicken yet tell the rest of the world that they can't kill whales."  She wasn't advocating for whale harvest, but just pointing out the hypocrisy of arbitrarily choosing which animals are worthy of consumption and which are not.  Conserving bluefin tuna, she understands.  Non-endangered whales? Why can't we take a few?

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