By Margaret Hedderman
I like to visualise. You know, the way athletes do. Except, instead of slam-dunking from center court (I could totally do that if only I visualised it…) I instead imagine myself acing a job interview. Exciting, I know. We’re sitting there, joking about our dogs, how we both love the musical Les Misérables and think George Clooney should marry a younger woman (namely me), and the topic of salary, hours per week, vacation, sick leave, and benefits is brought up.
Future Boss: You’ll work 40 hours a week, with the occasional unpaid weekend. Technically, you get two weeks of vacation a year, but, personally, I never take it and I’d like to see my employees follow my example. Benefits and sick leave are minimal. What do you say?
Future Boss: It’s a great career opportunity.
Me: But my neighbor works less hours a week, doesn’t do weekends, takes six weeks of vacation, has benefits, and makes the same amount of money.
Future Boss: Uh…
The choice seems obvious here. Who in their right mind would take this job? Most of us, actually. That is, if you’re one of our American readers. That’s right, on average, Europeans receive 16% more paid vacation time than Americans, and have a higher GDP, according to a 2009 CIA World Factbook estimate.
This disparity between hours spent in the office isn’t the only difference in our societies. In 2007, 91% of German secondary school students were learning English as a second language. In fact, a second language is mandatory is many EU countries. And, although this statement is based entirely upon personal experience rather than scientific data, most Europeans have a better knowledge of global (not to mention U.S.) affairs, history, and geography. (As comedically demonstrated below.)
While many public schools have low achievement scores in areas like history and geography, others are dropping art and theatre programs all together. That’s not to mention the recent announcement that SUNY Albany is discontinuing their French, Russian, classics, and theatre programs.
I hinted at this lapse in public value for the concept of education in the first part of the Urchin educational series. Perhaps we are witnessing such trouble in the public education system because the United States as a society doesn’t value educated individuals. Parents drop their kids off at school with the relief that Junior is someone else’s responsibility for the next eight hours, and instead of arguing about homework when Junior gets home, they turn on the TV and let Homer (Simpson, that is) baby-sit for the night.
This attitude can also be seen in the demonization of the intellectual. Opponents of President Obama paint him as an elitist, intellectual snob out of touch with the workingman. And, while my immediate and witty quip is, “Oh is it because you can’t understand words with more than two syllables?” this hatred of the President not only represents a fear of education but a cultural value for the lack thereof.
There are certain subcultures in America that glorify ignorance – associating it with patriotism. But, riddle me this, does an uneducated nation, that works more hours per year than any other with less to show, do itself service? Where is the patriotism in that?