An Outsider’s View of the American Educational System

February 13, 2010 
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In The Educational Dilemma in Saudi Arabia, Talal M. Alhammad, a college junior studying at Harvard University, compares the American educational system with the system in place in his native Saudi Arabia. Mr. Alhammad notes that where the Saudi system emphasizes conformity, and “ineffective memorization,” our American system emphasizes critical thinking. He is particularly impressed by the emphasis, within the American model, on deep immersion into a subject area and the requirement that students think about the material from a variety of perspectives, even when that means their opinion may be at odds with that of a professor.

Mr. Alhammad’s essay gives us the opportunity to see our own system through the eyes of someone outside our culture. While it is clear that there are many things about the American system of education that need to be improved and/or repaired, it is important to remember that we also do a lot of things right. Our tradition of what Mr. Alhammad calls “the liberal education environment” teaches students to think critically about the world around them and gives them the tools to analyze information independently. Those are two skills whose value cannot be overstated in the increasingly complex world in which our children will be living as they make their own journeys into adulthood.

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