Because life is a series of edits

Two Million Minutes

In Education, Movies, Westminster on April 27, 2008 at 8:08 pm

Westminster didn’t have school last Friday as we teachers had a teacher in-service during which we watched the short film, Two Million Minutes. Here’s the spiel:

“Regardless of nationality, as soon as a student completes the 8th grade, the clock starts ticking. From that very moment the child has approximately Two Million Minutes until high school graduation…Two Million Minutes to build their intellectual foundation…Two Million Minutes to prepare for college and ultimately career…Two Million Minutes to go from a teenager to an adult.”

While I bristle at the melodrama of the last few lines, I was intrigued by the film’s goal:

“This film takes a deeper look at how the three superpowers of the 21st Century – China, India and the United States – are preparing their students for the future. As we follow two students – a boy and a girl – from each of these countries, we compose a global snapshot of education, from the viewpoint of kids preparing for their future.”

As you might imagine, American students come out on the short end of the stick compared to the Asian work ethic and commitment to academics instead of extra-/co-curriculars. The film exploits the stereotypes a bit as a whole, but the American students from Carmel, Indiana don’t necessarily fight the typecasting (the arrogance is almost too much to take).

Some interesting quotes and notes from the film:

  • Nearly 40% of U.S. high school students do not take any science class more challenging than general biology.
  • 55% do not take any math courses beyond two years of algebra and one year of geometry.
  • 70% of parents think their child’s high school is teaching the right amount of math and science.
  • 79% of high school principals say they are not worried about low academic standards.
  • American students score highly in one area relative to their international peers: self-confidence.

A few more:

  • 66% of college-bound high school seniors have no more than one hour of homework per night and none on weekends.
  • 110 million students in China are studying English.
  • 50,000 American students are studying Chinese.
  • Nearly 60% of engineering PhD degrees awarded annualy in the United States are earned by foreign nationals.

For a look at how American high schoolers stack up with their Finnish counterparts, read this article from the Wall Street Journal, a piece more focused on liberal arts/humanities studies than the film’s math/science preoccupation. Oh, and here’s a decent summary op-ed on the issue from last week’s NY Times.


  1. Power Point presentations are not evil…they are often the best way to show a class what an object looks like or how a process works.

  2. *sigh*

    It’s hard to wonder if this whole thing isn’t a direct result of Dewey-ite pedagogy coupled with a culture that celebrates the banal and ephemeral. Mix those two together and voila!–instant lack of motivation and sense of worth in education. It’s amazing how many students know who was voted off American Idol last night, but can’t seem to remember much else.

    This is why homeschooling is the last, best hope for mankind!

  3. I can’t speak definitively to your Dewey thesis, Jake, though I’ve got a book on the man/topic on my list to read this summer. The American Idol argument continues in its reincarnated form from generation to generation as to what kids know and don’t know (but should), so I don’t have much to add.

    From my perspective, the biggest issue I see American students dealing with is an inability to think critically and make connections beyond two clicks of a mouse. I don’t worry as much about all they know (though that’s important and needs to be learned), but how they think about what they know – culturally, ethically, biblically.

    Homeschooling can help, but it’s just a model (as is Christian schooling). The real factor I see influencing the equation the most is parental involvement – not the helicopter parenting/fight all the kids’ battles for them kind of involvement, but intellectually thoughtful, emotionally stable, culturally wise, and spiritually invested parenting.

    Is that too much to ask? Perhaps. The problem is the request comes from God.

  4. You make a good point in mentioning the role of parents. So, in one sense, in order to redeem the educational situation in America we first begin with a reformation of parental instruction and habits? And if this is the case, shouldn’t Christians be at the forefront of this revolution? That is, if engaged, critically-thinking children are borne out of an environment of “intellectually thoughtful, emotionally stable, culturally wise, and spiritually invested parenting”, it seems that our scriptural mandate as parents would assist that process.

    I’d be curious to know (and maybe the video addressed this, or you know more than I) if those countries whose academic prowess supercedes ours, what the parental engagement looks like there?

    But you are absolutely right: the request comes from God, and he has set the bar quite high.

    I really appreciate your wisdom in writing these posts, Craig.

  5. it easy, and popular, for us to be cynical about america in this day and age. i read the wall street journal article and my question for india and china is what about the millions of children that don’t have adequate education in those countries or those forced into prostitution or child labor as for finland how many kids are there in finland like 17? seriously with a smaller population it gets easier. i all for education reform here and certainly there’s room for improvement but from my perspective the glass is not as empty as you might think.

  6. Rob, you forget who you’re dealing with when it comes to cynicism (not only is the glass half-empty, it’s also trying to kill me).

    Good questions on China/India. Anybody know if Finland has more than 17 kids?

  7. David Brooks says so much of what I think on all this (only ten times better) in this column on globalization. Read the whole piece (especially the last third), as he contextualizes education within what’s going on in the world. Here’s a preview:

    “The globalization paradigm emphasizes the fact that information can now travel 15,000 miles in an instant. But the most important part of information’s journey is the last few inches — the space between a person’s eyes or ears and the various regions of the brain. Does the individual have the capacity to understand the information? Does he or she have the training to exploit it? Are there cultural assumptions that distort the way it is perceived?”

    Preach it.

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