The National Catholic Review

Several months ago America reported on the "Gender Gap for Development Goals" in Central and South America, especially countries like Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico--where more than half of women who work in non-farm jobs have no benefits or security. One reason for this, of course, is lack of educational opportunities. This month The Economist reported on results of a ten-year study examining math, reading, and science scores in Central and South America. One major finding was that a weak and wasteful educational system continues to hold Brazil back. Standardized tests are the tool that is bringing some accountability to education on the South American continent:

Brazil showed solid gains in all three subjects tested: reading, mathematics and science. The test now involves 65 countries or parts of them. Brazil came 53rd in reading and science. The OECD is sufficiently impressed that it has selected Brazil as a case study of 'Encouraging lessons from a large federal system'.

Across Latin America there is far more awareness than a decade ago that poor education is holding the region back. Eight countries in the region took part in the latest tests. Chile did best among them, and continues to improve. But all came in the bottom third globally. In both Panama and Peru more than a third of 15-year-olds in school are borderline illiterate, able to make sense only of the simplest texts. Argentina’s schools, which a century ago were among the best in the world, continue to decline: they performed worse than ten years ago, and worse than Brazil’s.

Barbara Bruns, an economist at the World Bank who has written a book about Brazilian schools, praises the system, created over the past 15 years, of rating schools on how much students learn and how many of them drop out or repeat grades. “From a starting point of having no information on student learning, the two presidencies constructed one of the world’s most impressive systems for measuring education results,” she says.

But the recent progress merely upgrades Brazil’s schools from disastrous to very bad. Two-thirds of 15-year-olds are capable of no more than basic arithmetic. Half cannot draw inferences from what they read, or give any scientific explanation for familiar phenomena. In each of reading, mathematics and science only about one child in 100 ranks as a high-performer; in the OECD 9% do. Even private, fee-paying schools are mediocre. Their pupils come from the best-off homes, but they turn out 15-year-olds who do no better than the average child across the OECD.

The tests used are those from the Program for International Student Assessment. This is a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old pupil's scholastic performance, done every three years since 2000. The top school system in Math, Science, and Reading is Shanghai, China. Other top countries include Singapore, Finland and Taiwan. The USA is not in the top 10 in any subjects.

For a psychologist, this is an interesting development: it suggests that standardized tests are bringing a basic level of accountability to the Brazilian schools as well as other school systems in Latin America and elsewhere. These same tests, given worldwide, are useful in demonstrating which educational systems are effective and which are shortchanging the children. While in this country standardized tests often come under fire for "labeling children" or "not being a full assessment," here they are providing clear data that some countries need to do much more in educating their children. In this case, are the tests working as servants of the Gospel in helping to bring about educational justice?

William Van Ornum



Christine Castellana | 1/26/2011 - 8:32pm
I am wondering what exactly these standardized tests are measuring.  Is the test different in each and every country? I would hope so, because some cultures are so drastically different, it'd be ridiculous to expect everyone to be at the same level and to take the same exact test.

Also, just because students may be skilled in arithmetic doesn't mean that they are skilled elsewhere. For example, say a poor Brazilian boy did poorly on the test. That doesn't mean that he doesn't know how to farm or how to take care of things. Maybe he calculates other things in his head in order to survive, maybe he truly knows how to live off the land. I dare anyone to throw a typical American teen into the wilderness and see if they know how to survive! My interpretation of intelligence is looking out into your environment and knowing how to manipulate and work with it, applying the skills you've learned.  Why are we defined by how well we do in Calculus?

This also reminds me of a lecture that Dr. Sherry Dingman once gave. She said the reason other countries are better at us with Math is because arithmetic is presented to them in a visual, hands on way, not a textbook. For example, if you show a child a jar full of marbles and have him guess how many are in the jar and let him fail a couple of times, he will fine-tune his sense of numerosity, which will then lead to better skills in Math.  In our country, did that ever happen? No. Personally, I was just given a textbook and a calculator.  I never did anything interactive with Math and, to this day, I am still terrible at it! I also consider myself a smart person, but I did TERRIBLY on the Math section of the SAT. 

Also, as for literacy, I would like to share a quote from The World's Religions by Huston Smith. ''Literate peoples grow slack in recall- Why should I tax myself when I can find what I need written down somewhere?- is the lettered attitude toward memory.''  He specifically was talking about primal religions and the use of orality, but I think it can apply today.  Is it truly the end of the world if a specific place is illiterate?  As long as there are positive teachers who can SPEAK, people who are illiterate still have the capacity to LISTEN and REMEMBER, maybe even better than the ''educated.''  I am interested in seeing a standardized test where they test MEMORY and maybe we might be surprised by the results across nations.  People in third-world countries probably remember a whole lot more than we do, especially because we are now so absent-minded and rushed to go from place to place.

Thanks! - Christine

Samantha Rooney | 1/25/2011 - 12:59am
I agree with Alyssa in terms of knowing whether a test score truly represents a students educational opportunities.  As much as I do support standardizing testing, and thing it is necessary in figuring out which countries need to do more in educating their children, one also has to take into consideration that some people, no matter what their IQ or educational experience, are just not good test takers.  There are many outside factors that must be considered when it comes to test-taking.  Exams make some students nervous, which may distract them from working to their full potential on the test.  Other students may be naturally relaxed, and may not even care about the test or the results, which in turn can have almost an ironic effect, leading to the student receiving a higher score than expected.  I believe standardized testing is necessary, as long as outside factors are taken into consideration.
Kayna Pfeiffer | 1/23/2011 - 6:54pm
I happen to agree with what Kayna said. I have never performed very well on any standardized tests, despite my best efforts. These tests scores, which were implemented in order to predict my future academic achievement, have in no way been successful at their designated purposes, which is something that is extremely frustrating to me. While I have received only average scores on both the SAT and the GRE, i have performed above average in college. As such, I truly believe that standardized tests should be taken with a grain of salt. 

I would like to gain more information regarding the process of the standardization of test scores. Who decides what scores are good? bad? average? and how do they decide this?

I am especially interested not only because of my own experience with standardized tests, but also because of the countless controversies revolving around minorities and testing. As evidenced by these controversies, the intelligence of different cultures must be measured in different ways.  I am curious as to whether or not this was the case when it came to testing South American students, although i do not deny the students clearly need better educations. I'm just wondering if the tests are as accurate as we believe them to be.
Kayna Pfeiffer | 1/22/2011 - 3:09pm
In my opinion, standardized testing is a very controversial topic. I do not feel that it is the best indicator of a person's intelligence. A person does not have to have an IQ of 120 to do well on these tests. In fact, if a person prepares adequately for these tests by studying for a couple of months before the test and understands the logic and strategies being employed then that is the best way for him or her to achieve high scores. I just took the GRE two weeks ago and yes I did do decent on it, (130 points more than I needed to get into my top grad school) I do not feel like I am some kind of genius, rather a hard worker. I think being a hard worker is the key to success in school and doing well on tests, not necessarily having the brain of Einstein, although I am sure that would help!

However, I do feel like standardized tests are a good indicator of showing a population of students; weaknesses. Since Brazil's educational system has beens shown to be lacking as of late, it is important to see what subject areas students are performing the worst in. This way Brazil can start to rebuild their educational system from the ground up. From a global perspective,I do not feel that there should ever be a standardized test that should be compared from one country to the next, but rather each country should tailor their own, since every society operates differently and implements different teaching styles. 
Tom Maher | 12/30/2010 - 11:54am
Massachusetts is a big battle ground for standardize testing for almost two decades now.  The good news is that despite monopithic one party control of state government - 90% of both houses of the legislature are very liberal Democrates and the Governor is a liberal Democrat Deom stadnardize testing has been allowed to go forward and even expand despite fierce opposition by the Massachusetts teachers unions.  The Democrats  have figured out that despite the fact that teachers unions are a significant core constiuancy of the Democratic party, all politicians not escape intese public dissattisfaction with public education.

But way more than accountability is needed.  Public education needs to be structurally changed to better serve public educational needs as they exist intodays society.  The simple fact is public education is massivelfailing everywhere and needs to be reformed with or woithout teachers union apporval.  The public is demand change.
Teachers unions did not even exist 50 years ago.  But in the last 50 years teachers unions have become a powerful political and economic force everywhere across the county.  For example half of the delagates at the 1992 Democratic Convention where members of teachers unions.   Teachers unions have significant influence over American political processes and education laws.  Public  education is a super large industry across America and one of the largest employers in the nation..   Every little burg to the largest cities has multiple schools financed by local, state and federal taxes   In terms of well paid membersship teachers unions far exceed nowadays any industrial union such as the teamsters or the United Auto Workers.   About 2/3 of all graduate schools student populated are getting some type of educational degrees.  Further public education K to 12 is  a monopoly.  There is little aternative choice of schools available to everyone in America such as  Charter schools which are vigorously oppossed harassed by teachers unions and public school advocates in courts and state legislatures.

This extreme concentration of raw political power in a nationwide public education monopoly is readily abused to favor teacher union membership at the expense of of the goals of students becoming literate and informed citizens.    Too much political power is being concenttrated in the hands of teachers acting to act in in their own self interest.    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

 More than accoutability by standardize tests are needed.  American education needs to be structural change to break up the self-serving monopoly teachers unjions which is todaay's education reality.  This public eduction monopoly system is not financially sustainable over time.  Too much money will need to be spent to get far too little educational results.  Mayor Koch of New York City observed in the 1970s that the hugh amounts of money being spent on education could be just as well spent on sending every student in the New York City  public school system to Swiss boarding schools were they would get a much better education.  

So the issue here is one of grossly ineffiecent education monopoply heavly vested with economic and political power.  What needs to happen is what happened to the powerful ATT phone company monopoly of the 1980s,  the Oil Company monopoly of the 1900s  or the Railroad monoploies of the 1880s they need to be brokem up. Society needs to break up the public education monopoly and thereby get rid of the ieffiecentcies inherent to all monopolies.
Alternate competing schoold also know in Massachusetts and elsewhere as "charter schools' need to be created to allow the parents to decide where they want to send their children.  This school choice idea exist and is very popular and successful.  However school choice is powerfully oppossed by teachers unions and public eduction advocates who do everything they can to limit local, state and federal funding of charter schoolds and alternate education.  

You would think that Catholic School advocates would be alive to the possibilites of alternate education models funding.  Catholic schools since the 19th centruy are the origianl alternate education model to  public schools.  But flat-footedly as ususal Catholics do not know of let alone understand the economic and politics power struggle over education going on in society.

The public school education monopoly needs to be broken up.
Anonymous | 12/29/2010 - 1:44pm

''Very interesting.  Where did the Greeks get all this good stuff?''
Some of it had origins from other places but when it got to Greece it was expanded and developed further to much higher levels.  What the Greeks had was an attitude that was different from any other place in the world.  They were a bunch of independent city states that competed with each other.  They had limited fertile area which made then innovate to survive.  This competitiveness is at the heart of Western Civilization.
The first major piece of prose was by Herodotus and was called The Histories.  History in Greek means analysis.  It was the history of the Persian Wars.  Later Thucydides wrote the history of the Peloponnesian War and in between there were annual competitions for plays which some have survived and performed and read today.  So the Greeks were inveterate writers of just about anything.  This was the time of Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Hippocrates and others.  Various forms of democracy flourished starting in 6th century BC.  Boys in Athens were required to attend school and this was unique in the world at the time.
Some geometry was known to previous civilizations but it exploded under the Greeks.  Euclid is a century later as is Aristotle. Here is a wikipedia article on 5th Century BC Athens
Goldman in his course shows how the West operated differently than the rest of the world.  For example, the invention of algebra is nearly always attributed to the Muslims.  This may be technically true, but the Muslims never did anything with it.  When these ideas got to Italy, algebra mushroomed and modern algebra was born. What did the Italian do?  They introduced x's and y's and made algebra simple and expandable.  The Muslims never got pass word descriptions and consequently never really applied algebra.
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 1:38pm
Hi Norm,

Yes, the tests can be tools; let's hope for good ends! bill
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 6:58am
Hi Tom,

Thanks for the good points. You're right that the tests wouldn't be "mandated" as this implies being required and such a "coercion" would not be a good thing. They are "one possible servant" (I hope the Gospel has many diverse servants!). And there may be many other ways of judging the effectiveness of entire school systems, and we see great debate on this in the USA.  So others may have much to say on this here, as they certainly do elsewhere.

Alot of my own experience is in back of what I've written. At the beginning of my career I worked for five years in an inner city school for severely troubled students. As much as they needed to learn to handle their internal turmoil, just as important was keeping up with their peers scholastically. At one Head Start Center where I worked, there was a Literacy Room where parents could come and learn to read, working with Literacy volunteers. Reading is a gift of life. As a college teacher I have seen some students who come from poorer backgrounds transcend their previous environment due to their academic skills and motivation.

Glad you mentioned free-will. Sometimes this is an overlooked variable when assessing school systems or student achievement.

best, bill
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 6:43am

Thanks for the very movin account of what your daughter observed in Brazil. Sad that cigaretes for many are the bread of desperation.

You mention the East. China is #1 in the testing program noted above. The Chinese are incredibly hardworking and well-versed in computer literacy, which may become the defining capital in centuries to come. There are over one billion Chinese persons. They work hard.

Does Toby Huff see a re-emergence of the ancient Chnese empire?

best, bill
Tom Maher | 12/29/2010 - 1:02am
It is great that you bring into consideration a specific technical proposal such as  "standardize tests" where you suggest some of the  merits and utitlity of standardize tests in addressing certain large scale problems found in regions around the world.  This offers the reader to consider a specifc technical solution rather than the useual very general moral or philosophical principle.  It introduces the reader to detailed implication of technical tools such as "standardize tests" and how they might be used and how they might fit into a broader scheme or ordering of society.  It is great to explore actual technical possibilities of our 21 st century world that we live in. 

 The idea that standardize tests have something to do with the Gospel is not clear. 

Standardize test is a measure against some standard of literacy.  To be meaning ful some organization would have to design the test and do something with the test results.  This coordinated group action does not seem to be indicated by Gospel anymore than the Gospel directs continuous monitoring of the earth by networks of satellites.  Most good actions are not mentioned or required by the Gospel.

So standardize tests sounds like a great tool to be used by the enterprising to benefit the world as a specific free-will action.   But there is no mandate to take these specific action of using and applying standaize tests.

As a matter of political belief, literacy is a wonderful thing and should be encouraged by such things as monitoring schools by standardize tests and using these test to maintain high standards of literacy and learning by students.  Literacy frees people to better control their own lives and create choices for themselves.   Literacy enriches the individual and thereby the wider community.  
we vnornm | 12/28/2010 - 8:37pm

The world is drawing closer because of the "globalized indistrial-consumer economy." Because of this, I think young people in each country of the globe are going to need basic skills in literacy, mathematics, and "science" in order to survuve economically. This, I believe, is a fact of life in the beginning of the 21st century.

You make a good point in asking, "who is determining what these core skills are." Obviously the PISA group has viewed reading and mathmetics as crucial skills. It appears they have left out topics such as literature, art and art history, music, philosophy, histories-and one can argue that without these subjects educational becomes merely technical. So one can criticize PISA, as you have, for its incompleteness. Many are making similar arguments, good arguments I think, for not losing the core of liberal arts in higher education.

i would like to think, or hope, that increased scholastic ability is an asset to any young person in any country, and gives an empowering role, one that gives each of them as well as their country a better chance of escaping from the imprisong effects of colonialism, imperialism, juntas, dictatoriships, and other forms of corruption, and wars and crime. These, as you point out, truly have robbed many of our neighbors to the south of their full human dignity and opportunities for freedom.

Thanks for your review of a complex topic. bill

Rosemary Hendriks | 12/28/2010 - 8:14pm
In response to the author’s question, “are the tests working as servants of the Gospel in helping to bring about educational justice”, my answer is no.  They are instead working to further the goals of a globalized industrial-consumer economy that measures economic improvement in terms of consumption and profit, and not human need.  In the blog, weak and wasteful educational systems are blamed for holding the region back.  There is no mention of  the impact of globalization in concentrating economic power in the hands of a few institutions and countries, to say nothing of the long-lasting effects of hundreds of years of imperialism and colonization, or decades of war upon the region, and how these might continue to impact the area’s underdevelopment.  According to its website, PISA states that it “assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society.” My question is, who determines what are the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society, and how is society defined?  What role do Latin American citizens have in determining the knowledge and skills essential for participation in their own society, and the appropriate methods of assessment?    As Catholics we are called to bear witness to the message of liberation that Christ’s life and death bring, and this must be done by listening to the voice of the Latin American people in their search for economic as well as educational justice, and not by supporting practices which simply increase the injustices of economic globalization.
we vnornm | 12/31/2010 - 6:34am
D HNY2011! b
we vnornm | 12/31/2010 - 6:33am
Norm tx amdg. bvo
we vnornm | 12/30/2010 - 5:04pm

You are very courageous to be questioning the effectiveness of the teacher unions.

One issue that come up in Catholic School systems is the issue of fair pay. It is common knowledge that in the vast majority of school systems Catholic teachers do not earn a comparable wage to those in the public sector. So the question of forming unions in Catholic school systems becomes an issue. The financial fallout from the sexual abuse settlement cases has affected many dioceses.

We'll see if Abp. Dolan's plan of funding-to create responsibility within the entire Archdiocese for the schools-is effective. It shows promise.

The efficacy of vouchers large scale remains to be seen...

A good topic to be looking at......and back to the title of the blog, one will find that teacher unions in USA typically do not view standardized testing as helpful....

Anonymous | 12/30/2010 - 10:40am
I talked with a friend a couple months ago about what he and others were doing in the Bay area in trying to institute education reform.  Here is the website for their organization

Their goal is to address educational discrepancies between poor areas and middle class and rich areas.  Quite a high powered group of people.  I haven't heard too much about their successes to date but they certainly recognize the problems and are mobilized.  There is an interesting video on the home page.
we vnornm | 12/30/2010 - 6:53am

How great to see the country's progress reflected right within your own family! I have been trying to think of other ways to have a yardstick for the educational progress in other countries, and ways to compare them, and come up short. Somehow portfolos or engaging students in what the educators call "authentic assessments" (i.e., hands-on projects) while very menaingful, particularly in the context of a well-established all-around curriculum, don't seem to be a way to make cross cultural comparisons. Mr. Cosgrove's remarks remind me that there is indeeed a core of knowledge-being passed down to us thriough the Greeks-that is important knowledge everywhere. So it seems there can be some agreement in what the core of skills is requiring testing.

While Norm suggests views on the "futility" of NCLB, I have one vivid direct observation of NCLB working. I took one of my college classes to visit a large inner-city Head Start Center. The college students initially thought the teachers were pushing the young children too much-a bit of drills and rote going on. But we discovered that this Center had received some of the highest scores in the nation and the kids were clamoring for more challenge themsleves! It even brought great participation from the parents. I've always thought it's such a paradox in the USA where we put so much pressure on sports and sports SCORES but don't do the ame with reading nd math. And it's interesting that teachers themselves who are critical of standardized tests often seek to buy their homes in distrits with high test scores!

Your last paragraph, I think, addresses some of Rosemary concerns in #1, the lack of full-rounded cultural education, and I am glad to see that in Singpore this has been worked into the schools after the basics are/have been mastered. amdg, bill
we vnornm | 12/30/2010 - 6:42am

Thanks for your spirited encouragement for the teaching profession. There are many from other faiths whom, as you point out, are carrying forth the Chrsitian message, even though they themselves come from a different faith or belief background. Thanks for all the good thoughts on this entire topic. best, bill
JANICE JOHNSON | 12/30/2010 - 12:30am
I think I'm fairly well-versed in the pros and cons of standardized testing.  A teacher-sister and teacher-friends have seen to that!  I wonder, as Mr. Cosgrove stated, whether iit is appropriate to compare the experience of the US with third world countries.  The progress in education in the U.S. can be seen inmy family....from the time in the 30's when my mother taught 8 grades in a one-room schoolhouse to the past decades when my sister taught kindergarten classes material that had previously been taught in 1st grade.   Economic development here and the belief that every child has a right to an appropriate education undergirded the growth of education for all.  In turn, appropriate education fuels economic growth.  This is what we hope to see happen in underdeveloped countries.  If standardized testing can bring accountability to these countries......... shining a light on those whose PISA ratings improve and critiquing those that don' should be tried.  Is there any other way to do this?

One objection to the use of standardized tests and the ratings is that the focus is on reading (literacy) , math and science.  I noticed that Singapore ranks in the top ten of that ratings in all three categories and I remembered a conversation I had with a young Chinese couple in Singapore in 2000.  Native Singaporeans, well-educated , parents of young children, they were very proud of their country and its educational system which focuses on reading, math and science.  They recognized the lack of the liberal arts in education and the lack of the arts in the country and said that this was the next goal for Singapore.  The country was economically prosperous and had the resources at hand to develop an arts community.  Which they did in the ensuing years.  Singapore is ethnically and religiously diverse, geographically in the East with historical Brithish and Japanese colonial influence.
As another commentator said, the people work hard.
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 5:29pm
Dear Perfect Arc:

We ask our contributors sign in with their real names. Please do so and then I will respond. I have spent more time in classrooms than can be measured in even many microseconds so I might have a few intersting thoughts for you.  Thanks, bill.
Dean Goddard | 12/29/2010 - 3:43pm
Well, I am not too sure about the use of the ecclesiastical term "gospel" here unless it is being used metaphorically meaning "truth."

Otherwise, standardized testing has been around I am sure since before I was in elementary school in the 1960s. We have a dialogue going on right now about our educational system here in the US that for the most part is devoid of reality in that much of the blame is directed at institutions, specifically educators, rather than where is squarely belongs ...... on the parents.

After almost a decade since NCLB has become law it is obvious that we can't spend our way out of the literacy problem, the dropout rate problem or the outsourcing of jobs problem.

You can't legislate morality, you can't legislate culture, and you sure as hell can't legistlate parenting. And for anyone who has spent more than a nanosecond in an American classroom you can quicky arrive at the conclusion that institutions are not the problem ..... it's the parents, or lack thereof.

Anonymous | 12/29/2010 - 1:56pm
Dr. van Ornum,

''Sad about Rio.''

Don't feel sorry for Rio.  Rio is also one of the great cities of the world.  I did a video for a class I took at the local community college, titled, ''The Greatest City in the World.''  I was referring to Rio and put together a 5 minutes montage of short videos on Rio.  It is a spectacularly beautiful city, with no other city close to it in physical beauty.

I was referring to Fortaleza about a 1500 miles north of Rio.  I do not know how typical Fortaleza is but the north of Brazil is much poorer than the south.  People in the US would feel quite comfortable living in Southern Brazil but there are obvious pockets of poverty every where.  In Sao Paulo, the largest city, there are large groups that live under the bridges in the city as well as in shanty towns around the city.  In Rio, there are the famous favelas on the hills which can be dangerous and have their own culture while the rest of the city is a modern 20th century city with traffic jams and people shopping in the malls and very busy. 

They are energy independent which is far from what we can say. 
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 1:48pm
Norm, JRC..thanks much for the valuable history. bill
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 1:46pm
JRC 12 p.s.

This is a discussion for another time, but I don't think the distribution of teaching talent is a normal curve....but the point still holds...bill
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 1:43pm
JRC 13,  You will not get any disagreement from me on this one. bill
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 1:41pm
JRC 12,

Great magazine, that Economist! Wish my field had one of similar staure and age. I'm especially interested in what you said about getting top teachers into the field. Makes both human and economic sense, win/win. I need some time to check the links. Thanks also for your first person on-the-spot observations. Sad about Rio. happy 2011, bill
Anonymous | 12/29/2010 - 12:57pm

''The West had two things going for it: the Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment.''
The West is the inheritor of the greatest century of Mankind, namely the 5th century BC in Greece.  Ancient Greece was the start of the West and we are eternally grateful for what the Greeks did,  In a Teaching Company Course on Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World, the first two major accomplishments were given to the Greeks.  And this was writing and reasoning.  Here are the two descriptions of the lectures on these topics
''2. Writing Makes Science Possible Writing is a core commitment of science because scientific knowledge is an abstraction—not embodied in concrete things or processes. Cultures without writing may be quite sophisticated in other ways, and cultures can be highly literate without developing an idea of science.''  Writing was essentially developed by the Greeks. There was lots of writing before this time but nearly all of it was more inventory counting and logistics.  Writing exploded under the Greeks.
''3. Inventing Reason and Knowledge The idea of knowledge had to be invented. Plato and Aristotle defined knowledge as something universal, not linked to probabilities or context. For them, knowledge was timeless, universal, necessary, and certain, and their paradigm was deductive logical reasoning, as in geometry.''
If one wants a great education, it should start with Greece.  There were obviously other ancient cultures but none went as far as the Greeks went, philosophy, science, architecture, mathematics, literature, medicine, agriculture, politics, warfare.   This is where Western civilization began and is the main root of the difference between the West and the East.

Here is a link to the course which is excellent. 
Anonymous | 12/29/2010 - 12:38pm
I have three comments:

First: I was in Brazil in March and a local person said in Fortalezza which is on the coast and in the North, that there was 3 shifts each day in the schools.  There was a shift in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the early evening.  So essentially the children share the same facilities but at different times of the day.  It didn't seem like a very good situation.  The north of Brazil is the poorest area of the country.  If one goes to the South, then there is a large middle class and I bet their schools are much better.  Some of Brazil's cities are very modern but the level of services is very uneven.

It is extremely inappropriate to compare what they do to what we do.  If one went back just 40 years in this country one would see a very different education and medical system.  This has changed as our economic situation has changed and in less developed countries this will also change over time.  

But maybe not for the better in all places.  Buenos Aires is one of my favorite cities and one only has to look at it to see how things can deteriorate.  It is a world class city that has fallen apart.  That sounds contradictory but someone said in a travel video I saw not long ago that in 1900, there were three great European cities in the world, Paris, London and Buenos Aires.  Buenos Aires is full of cracks but it easy to see that this city was one of the magnificent ones of the world that they couldn't maintain.  It fell victim to the wrong politics and the country suffered because of that.

Second: I came across an amazing video that tracks both wealth and health over the last two hundred years for 200 countries.  Health is measured in terms of life expectancy.  Here is the video on youtube

I suggest everyone look at it regardless of their interests.  The website for this video has several other charts that are animated in this video of economic and educational variables.  Here is the website 

Third, a week ago I saw a short paragraph in the Economist about a study that examined the effect of good teachers.  The projections of effect of a good teacher determined by the study were astronomical, so much that it is hard to really believe them.  But here is the link and the short paragraph. 

''A teacher one standard deviation above the mean effectiveness annually generates marginal gains of over $400,000 in present value of student future earnings with a class size of 20 and proportionately higher with larger class sizes. Alternatively, replacing the bottom 5-8 percent of teachers with average teachers could move the U.S. near the top of international math and science rankings with a present value of $100 trillion.'' 

And here is one person's comments on this study 

we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 11:06am

You may be right, and from your comment on another discussion today I will second that it is indeed good to get further primary source material from other countries. Usually I find the Economist to be pretty reputable, but one never knows, and if you have seen school materials first-hand that makes you an authority with a certain credence in my mind. Or perhaps-as often is a criticism heard in the USA-the curriculum is a good curriculum but the test is not mesuring what the student is being taught. All good questions, as it seems to me an important subject. more to learn...bill
we vnornm | 12/29/2010 - 7:09am

Reading has brought me great joy, it is a hope that others may have this same skill. bill