Americans have always shown a great concern for education. 88% of American children attend public schools (financed by the government) and 12% go to private schools. American schools try, above all, to be practical. American education has been greatly influenced by the writings of a famous 20th-century philosopher named John Dewey, who believed that the only worth-while knowledge was knowledge that could be used. He convinced educators that it was pointless to make students memorize useless facts that they would quickly forget. Rather, schools should teach thinking processes and skills that affect how people live and work. Dewey also influenced teaching techniques. Education must be meaningful, and children learn best by doing – these are the basic ideas of progressive education. Thus, science is taught largely through student experimentation; the study of music involves making music; democratic principles are put into practice in the student council; group projects encourage creativity, individual initiative, leadership and teamwork.
Education in the USA comprises three basic levels: elementary, secondary and higher education. The United States does not have a national system of education. Education, Americans say, is “a national concern, a state responsibility and a local function”. It means that most educational matters are left to separate states or the local community. In general, colleges, universities and schools, both state and private, are quite free to determine their own individual standards and requirements. Because of the great variety of schools and colleges, and many differences between them, we cannot speak about a typical American school or college. Yet, there are enough basic similarities in structure among the various schools and systems to give some general comments.
Education is free and compulsory in all states, however, from the age of 6 till 16 (or 18). Most schools start at the kindergarten level at the age of 5. The elementary school (or grade school) goes from age 6 to 11 or 12 (grades 1 to 5 or 6). At elementary school the emphasis is placed on the basic skills (speaking, reading, writing and arithmetic), though the general principle throughout the American school system is that children should be helped and encouraged to develop their own interests.
Elementary school is usually followed by a middle school (grades 6-8) or Junior High School (grades 7-8). High schools include 3 or 4 years, usually until the age of 18. Children move on to high school in the ninth grade, where they continue until the twelfth grade. There are two basic types of high school: one with a more academic curriculum, preparing students for admission to college, and the other offering primarily vocational education (training in a skill or trade). The local school board decides which courses are compulsory. There is great freedom of choice, however, and an important figure in high schools is the guidance counselor, who advises the students on what courses to take on the basis of their career choices and aptitude and ability tests.
In order to receive the high school diploma which is necessary in most states to get into college, students must accumulate a minimum number of credits, which are awarded for the successful completion of each one- or half-year course. Students hoping to be admitted to the more famous universities require far more than the minimum number of credits and must also have good grades (the mark given on the basis of course work and a written examination). Extra-curricular activity (such as playing for one of the school’s sports teams) is also very important in the American school system and is taken into consideration by colleges and employers.
There are about 3000 colleges and universities, both private and public, in the United States. They are all independent, offering their own choice of studies, setting their own admission standards and deciding which students meet those standards. The greater the prestige of the university, the higher the credits and grades required.
The terms “college” and “university” are often used interchangeably, as “college” is used to refer to all undergraduate education and the four-year undergraduate programme, leading to a bachelor’s degree, can be followed at either colleges or university. Universities tend to be larger than colleges and also have graduate schools where students can receive post-graduate education.
During the first two years students usually follow general courses in the arts or sciences and then choose a major (the subject or area of studies in which they concentrate – the other subjects are called minors). Credits (with grades) are awarded for the successful completion of each course. These credits are often transferable, so students who have not done well in high school can choose a junior college, which offers a two-year “transfer” programme, preparing students for degree-granting institutions. Community colleges also offer two-year courses of a vocational nature, leading to technical and semi-professional occupations, such as journalism.
Task 1. Find in the text, translate and learn by heart following words and word combinations.
1)admission standard; 2) aptitude; 3) completion; 4) credit; 5) curriculum; 6) åxtra-curricular activity; 7) guidance counselor; 8) major; 9) post-graduate education; 10) to be admitted; 11) to tend; 12) transferable; 13) vocational education; 14) interchangeably; 15) to take into consideration; 16) grade.
Task 2. Find out from the text what these figures and words mean.
1) 88; 2) 16; 3) 6; 4) 3000; 5) 12; 6) twelfth.
Task 3. Answer the following questions.
1) What are three basic levels does the educational system in the USA comprise?
2) Who influenced the educational system the most? What are the basic principles of this system?
3) What can you say about the attitude of Americans towards the education?
4) What types of schools are there in the USA?
5) How many years do American children go to school?
6) What have you got to know about colleges and universities in the USA?
Task 4. Compare the system of education in the USA and Ukraine. Choose the best features of both and make a model of an “ideal” school.
Schools in the USA
Many children attend nursery school, or preschool, since three or four years old, which are mainly private. In most areas free public education begins with kindergarten classes for five-year-olds. These are usually half-day classes two or three hours long, although some communities run all-day kindergarten programmes. The primary purpose of kindergarten is socialization but the young students also gain information and skills. For example, they learn to identify colours, count to ten, print their names, work with art supplies, listen to stories, and enjoy books. After kindergarten American children begin their academic studies. Their schooling is divided into 12 academic levels called grades. The first academic institution is called elementary school or grammar school (1-6 grades),the next– junior high schoolormiddle school (7-8 grades) andhigh school (9-12 grades).
Grammar (elementary) schools teach language arts (reading, writing, spelling and penmanship), social studies (history and geography), mathematics, science, physical education, and health. In addition, elementary school programmes often include music, art, and home economics. During elementary school years, students are grouped into classes, and each group stays together for the entire school day and the entire school year. Generally, the class has the same teacher for most subjects, although art, music, and physical education are usually taught by teachers who specialize in these areas. Also, in the upper elementary grades, students in some school systems have different teachers (but the same classmates) for their major academic subjects.
High school subjects are more specialized. English classes emphasize writing, grammar, and literature. Social studies are split into separate courses such as American history, European history and psychology. There are also specialized science courses in biology, chemistry and physics. Many high school students study a foreign language, usually Spanish, French or German. Courses in music, art, home economics, and consumer education are also available, along with various vocational courses. As in elementary school, health and physical education classes are generally required. In high school, students move from one classroom to another and study each subject with a different teacher and a different group of classmates. Many high schools have what is commonly called a tracking system, which groups students according to academic ability and motivation. Thus, more capable and hard-working students take more difficult courses. Depending on the subject, classes may be offered at two, three, or even four different ability levels. High school students have a very busy day. Many take five or six academic subjects as well as physical education. During other periods, students may be doing homework in a study hall, researching in the school library, or participating in activities such as the school orchestra, student government, school newspaper, or a math club. Many extracurricular activities such as athletics, dramatics, or music may be at school from very early in the morning until dinnertime. They help students find friends with similar interests, develop their talents, gain greater self-confidence, and sometimes even discover their career goals.
There is no difference between city, suburban, and country schools in the US. Public schools teach the same subjects in the same grades across the land. Most school buildings look the same and have the same types of room inside. There is always a gym, a large room for basketball and other sports. There is a lunch-room, a school library, and an auditorium, a very large room where all the students and teachers can meet. Most schools also have rooms for a band to practise in. They have for students to type and use computers. There are usually rooms for students to world with paint, wood, metal, and other materials. These are all part of most American public schools, no matter where they are.
The students use their free time in many different ways (school basketball team, join some clubs, play the school band, go to the school library or to quiet study rooms, the overseas clubs). Teachers and parents help with the clubs. Learning to use free time well is an important part of high school life. Each school serves a neighbourhood, and neighbourhoods are different. In some, the parents take an interest in what their children are doing at school. They give their time, their ideas, and they may give gifts to their schools. Generally, it doesn’t matter whether the neighbourhood is rich or poor, or whether it is in city, the suburbs, or in the country. Schools try to take interests in their neighbourhood, too. Trips to the firehouse, police headquarters, newspaper offices, and other places are very popular with young children. Some schools have newspapers written by students for their neighbours. Older students may clean up the neighbourhood together. They may earn money by washing cars, and use the money to help sick or elderly people in the neighbourhood. These are ways students learn about the American way of life. They start with their neighbourhood.