As our second selection for June, we picked this 2013 book by journalist and Time magazine writer, Amanda Ripley. A New York Times bestseller, The Smartest Kids was published in 15 countries and chosen by The Economist, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Amazon as one of the most notable books of the year.
In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems. They are learning to think, in other words. Ripley did a tremendous amount of research in the creation of this most informative book.
She followed three young Americans for one year.
1. Kim, 15, raises $10,000 so she can move from Oklahoma to Finland.
2. Eric, 18, exchanges an upscale Minnesota suburb for a booming South Korea.
3. Tom, 17, leaves a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland.
Their stories, along with groundbreaking research into what works worldwide, reveal a pattern of startling transformation: none of these places had many “smart” kids a few decades ago. They had changed. Teaching had become more serious; parents had focused on what mattered; and children had bought into the promise of education. The Smartest Kids is a book about building resilience in a new world—as told by the young Americans with the most at stake.
There is a most educational chapter on the origins of the test called PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) which helps to reveal which countries are teaching kids to think for themselves. You meet an extraordinary educational researcher named Andreas Schleicher and learn how he helped to map ‘the geography of smart.’
A few conclusions/insights/factoids from the book:
1. PISA revealed what should have been obvious: spending on education did not make kids smarter. EVERYTHING depended on what the teachers, parents and others did with the money. The issues were with execution.
2. The smartest kids in the world (at that time) were in Finland, Poland and South Korea.
3. The most affluent kids in the US scored 18th in math compared to affluent students worldwide and wealthy American parents didn’t care about math as much as football.
4. Parents who view themselves as educational coaches tend to read to their children every day when they are small. When they are older, they talk with them about their days and about the news around the world. They let their children make mistakes and then get right back to work.
5. Finally, for this note, parents in the smartest countries (for different reasons) around the world seem to understand the importance of academic resilience--the very same way.
Lastly, the Appendix I of this book is rich with very practical interview and assessment for parents on ‘How to spot a World-class Education.’ It includes a process and a set of questions/assessment areas for parents everywhere, as they try to find the world-class schools/best ones for their children.
It is a great moment in US history to be reading this work; it will give you a good frame of reference, global comparative data and a process for helping your kids to join this gang…the smartest kids in the word!