Comparative Education

Education 418

Spring 2005

Carol Merz                                                                                  Office Hours: T, Th 1-2pm

office 879-3377                                                                           and by appointment

home 206/463-4462 recorder or before 9:00 p.m.                             



A society defines many of its aspirations and its deepest values in the schooling it creates for its youth. Consciously and unconsciously systems are built by which young people will be shaped to assume adult roles. A critical study of schooling can reveal social and economic characteristics, conflicts, and inconsistencies of a society. This course is designed to meet the Comparative Values requirement of the core, and as such will require students 1) to examine the values of another society through its education system and 2) to think about the extent to which their own values are an artifact of their own schooling, and 3) to examine the challenges of national systems of education in times when national borders are especially permeable to economic, social, and cultural issues. In this last topic we will look particularly at how cultures deal with immigrants or minorities.


Comparative education as a discipline has traditionally had many purposes. Researchers and policy makers often study different systems of education in a quasi-experimental mode to determine the superiority of one system over another. Pragmatic educators occasionally examine the educational systems of other countries to learn new ways to approach old problems. Sometimes comparative education attempts to discover universals such as the relationship of economic development and education or the relationship of social class to education. Some people study comparative education to learn what is unique to a particular society or to learn more about themselves, as Lipset observes, “To understand...American religion, American education, American law, or any other institution, it is necessary to know how it differs from the comparable institutions in other cultures. Only when one knows what is unique on a comparative scale can one begin to ask significant questions about causal relationships within a country.”


Comparisons can be made between US schools and schools in a variety of other countries for a variety of purposes.  Most often American schools are compared somewhat simplistically to schools of other industrialized nations with whom we compete economically. Comparisons with European school systems have been popular for a long time and endless arguments have ensued about the lack of rigor in American schools and the lack of diversity and opportunity for social mobility in European schools. Such comparisons are frequently made as a form of advocacy for an educational change. In the past few decades it has become common to compare American schools to the schools of Japan; frequently the purpose of the comparison was to show the superiority of academic achievement among Japanese students and to urge various educational reforms which could lead to greater economic productivity.  More recently similar comparisons have been made with Korea and China.


Other interesting comparisons can be made with countries facing similar social challenges. For example the US has always faced the challenges of immigration and cultural diversity. Recently European schools have faced similar challenges and have had to make adjustments to accommodate immigrants. Israeli schools can also be compared to the US because they were specifically designed to accommodate immigrants, and yet separate school systems exist especially for Arabs and religious Jews. Schools within countries with an official state religion are often enlightening to Americans grounded in a system of state secular schools and private religious schools.


One of the most fruitful kinds of comparisons is one that is made in order to understand a country through its schools. In this course comparisons will be made with several countries in order to understand 1) the relationship of schools to the culture within which they are embedded, 2) the commonalties and differences across national borders today, especially how cultures deal with minorities, and 3) the influence the student’s own schooling experiences have had on his or her perspective.





Because of the recent attention to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, first half of the course will focus on a comparison of Japanese and American schools. In the second half of the course we will look at schools in other parts of the world and apply some of the analytic methods we have developed in our study of Japanese schools. The course is designed to address five major questions.


1. Why compare schools? In this section the students will become familiar with some basic concepts, methods and purposes in comparative education and read one popular recent comparison.


2.Schools and socialization: how do children learn to be “Japanese” or “American,” what societal roles are important in education?


3. Schools and intellectual achievement: Are Asian students superior to American students? How does one measure achievement across cultures? What kinds of achievement are valued by each society?


4. Schools and economic productivity: to what extend do economic ends influence the structure of schooling?  What are the parallels between a nation’s means of production and schools?


5. Schools and the world: to what extent do global issues permeate cultures? How do countries educate for internationalism vs. nationalism? How do countries deal with immigration and diversity?






              Reading Schedule and Assignments original 2-10-05


Jan 18 Course introduction

See Polished Stones

Talk about TIMSS

Jan 20 Okano and Tsuchiya: Chapter 1 

 The Teaching Gap chapters 1-3

Heart of the Nation – elem section

Jan25 The Teaching Gap chapters 4-6

Web assignment due

Jan 27 1 The Teaching Gap chapters 7-9


Feb Kotloff and Lewis in Coursepack


 Feb 3 Reflective writing on The Teaching Gap

Feb 8 Okano and Tsuchiya Chapter 3

Heart of the Nation – secondary section

Feb 10 Fukuzawa in Coursepack. 

Feiler Chapter 23 Coursepack

Feb 15 Okano and Tsuchiya – Chapter 4




Feb 17 Paper: Topic, description, sources and major questions due

Yoneyama in Coursepack

Feiler Chapter 21 in Coursepack

Feb 22 Merz gone


 Feb 24 Greenfeld in Coursepack (both entries

Mar 1- Jigsaw on changing Japan (readings distributed)

Mar 3 Read Le Tendre in CP


Mar 8 Heart of the Country video


Mar 10 Reflective in class writing on schools in Japan

Mar 15 Spring Break


Mar 17 Spring Break


Mar 22 Afghan Alphabet


March 24 Friedl and Mehran in Coursepack

Mar 29 Stengthening Education in the Muslim World – on Blackboard


Mar 31 Education and Indoctrination in the Muslim World – on Blackboard; Outline of major topics in paper due

April 5 Sarroub in CP

Dorsky and Stevenson in CP

April 7 Guest Speaker on Schools in Yemen  

April 12 Draft of paper due

Jigsaw of Muslims in Europe

April 14 Blackboards film by Samira Makhmalbaf

April 19 presentations


April 21 presentations


April 26 presentations


April 28 Merz gone


May 3 presentations

Paper due

May 13 Final Exam noon-2 pm










Okano, Kaori and Tsuchiya, Motonori (1999). Education in Contemporary Japan: Inequality and Diversity. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.


Stigler, James and Hiebert, James, (1999) The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press.


Coursepack (available from Puget Sound Book Store)


Coulson, Andrew ( March 11 2004) Education and Indoctrination in the Muslim World: Is there a problem? What can we do about it? Policy Analysis,   No. 511 (on Blackboard)


Bureau for Policy and Program Coordination. June 2003. Strengthening Education in the Muslim World. USAID. (on Blackboard)


Current relevant newspaper articles will be posted on Blackboard.





Assignments and Evaluation


1. Participation: students will be asked to come to class each day prepared to discuss the material assigned. Both students and teacher must take responsibility for the quality of a class. Students should participate actively, offering ideas for their colleagues to consider and giving thoughtful consideration to the ideas of others. Students may be asked to write short responses to the reading or other course material; these responses will be considered part of participation grade. (10% of grade)


2. Web assignment – see separate handout (10% of grade)


3. Reflective writing following the Teaching Gap worth 10% of grade.


4. Exams: there will be a midterm in class writing (20% of the grade) and a comprehensive final exam (20% of grade). Tests and final exam will require essay responses. I will not give credit for any answer I cannot read. Writing will be judged to standards of “draft stage.” I will consider answers in light of: 1. knowledge of texts, 2. understanding of concepts underlying courses, 3. ability to select appropriate knowledge and concepts and apply them to analyze and discuss problems of schooling, and 4. comprehensiveness of answer.


5. Paper: Students will write one paper of approximately 10-12 pages,  (30% of grade each) on topics to be determined between the instructor and student. The paper will be an exploration of one aspect of comparative education that relates to the student’s career plans, area of academic emphasis, or personal interest. Drafts of this paper will be required at specified dates.



Other Suggested Readings



Brooks, Geraldine (1995) Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. New York: Anchor. Brooks, a writer for The Wall Street Journal travels throughout the middle East and describes the women she meets.


Claveria, Julio Vargas and Alonso, Jesus Gomez (2003). Why Roma do not like mainstream schools: Voices of a people without a territory. Harvard Educational Review, 73 (4) , pp.559-590.


LeTendre, Gerald, Hofer, Barbara, and Shimizu, Hidetada ( 2003). What is tracking? Cultural expectations in the United States, Germany, and Japan. American Educational Research Journal, 40 (1) pp.43-89.  Study relying on case material from TIMSS.


Levine, Robert, Levine, Sarah, and Schnell, Beatrice (Spring 2001). “Improve the women”: Mass schooling, female literacy, and worldwide social change, in Harvard Educational Review,  71 (1), pp 1-50.


Lewis, Catherine (1995). Educating hearts and minds. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Napier, Susan (2001). Anime from Akira to Proncess Mononoke. New York: Palgrave.


Nadeau, Jea-Benoit and Julie Barlow (2003). Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks. Good chapter on education and other good chapters on immigration.


Shamahara, N. Ken, Holowinsky, Ivan and Tomlinson-Clarke, Saundra (2001) Ethnicity, race and nationality in education: A global perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.  LB45 E835 2001 Chapters on China, South Africa, Buraku in Japan, Israel and Ukraine.  This book is on 24 hr reserve at Collins.


Stevenson, H. and Stigler, James. (1992). The learning gap: Why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Tsuneyoshi, Ryoko (2001.) The Japanese model of schooling: Comparisons with the United States. New York: Routledge Falmer.