On the first day of school, Johnny had a hard time getting out of bed. "Johnny, get up! You're going to be late for school!" warned his mother. "Aw, Mom, do I have to go to school?" Johnny complained. "Yes, son, summer is over, and the new school year is starting. You must go to school. And besides," reasoned Johnny's mother, "you're the teacher!"
This old American joke does have a ring of truth to it. American teachers and students alike enjoy their summer vacation. But don't let the humor fool you: Education is a major part of American culture. Schools do more than just fill students' heads with knowledge. They pass on culture, traditions and values.
American children start their education in elementary school. Most youngsters enter first grade at around six years of age. Children can prepare for this step by attending preschool and kindergarten from ages three to five. Young learners finish elementary school in fifth or sixth grade. From there, students go on to junior high school until eighth or ninth grade. Americans complete their required education in high school. They graduate and receive a diploma after twelfth grade.
Beyond high school, Americans have many chances for further education. In contrast to other countries, the U.S. has no national college entrance exam. Instead, private companies give exams to students. Universities decide which tests students must take. In addition to test scores, university officials also consider applicants' high school grades and other activities. Universities give scholarships and financial aid to help many who cannot afford the high tuition costs. Students with less academic goals may enroll in vocational schools or community colleges.
The American style of education, compared to that of other countries, is quite informal. In fact, the casual class atmosphere often amazes international students. American teachers encourage students to think for themselves. Instead of grading students only on test scores, teachers evaluate papers, group projects and class participation, as well. Students often have to think creatively to solve problems-not just memorize facts. Students also learn how to do research by using resource materials to find their own answers. In this way, classrooms illustrate the American emphasis on individual responsibility.
Freedom of choice is another American value not absent from school life. In addition to their required courses, high school and college students may choose elective courses. These electives allow students to study subjects that interest them. The menu of choices might include typing, band and home economics, as well as special academic classes. Other activities occupy students' time after school hours. Most schools have sports teams, clubs and publications that give students valuable experience.
The American system of education is far from perfect. Teachers in America fight to control cheating and plagiarism. Drugs, violence, sex and peer pressure interfere with students' education. Test scores are declining. In light of these issues, American teachers have an important and challenging job. They must instill cultural and moral values, as well as knowledge, in young American citizens. Wake up, Johnny! You've got work to do!
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