Like a lot of other American teachers, I was intrigued by what I had heard about Japanese schools, especially the stories of teachers there who could manage classes of 45 high school students and still produce the best test-takers in the world. So when I got the chance last summer to pay a five-week visit to Japan, I was eager to go. I observed world history classes in public and private high schools and talked with scores of teachers, students, parents, administrators, and business executives. Japanese high schools are impressive, and their reputation is richly deserved. But I don't think they should be the model for our schools.
She had the look of the mill as she stood at the classroom door, too shy to take her eyes away from her tattered shoes. Her long, blond hair was gathered by a rubber band into a thin, dirty ponytail. Her skin was so pale that freckles stood out all over her face, arms, and legs. Her faded dress hung, too large, on her bony shoulders. But more defining than her appearance was her hesitancy. She saw the well-dressed children of the town's banker, doctor, store owners, and teachers, and she knew she was not one of them. Her face shone with fear.