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What Did You Do With Your 2 Million Minutes in High School?


That's essentially the question that is asked of six students—two each from the United States, India, and China—in the "2 Million Minutes" documentary that was screened last night at the Jack Valenti Theater in Washington and that I previewed here. The ED in '08 folks, who are partnering with the production company Broken Pencil Productions to market the film, were kind enough to invite me.

Dozens of policy wonks attended, representing the U.S. Department of Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Strong American Schools, which is directing the ED in '08 campaign.

The hour-long film was thought-provoking and interesting, shaped by the six students chosen. And frankly, it left me depressed. As the American students are studying while watching "Grey's Anatomy," or spending more time in a part-time job and in sports than on their studies, students from India and China are in school even on weekends, busting their butts to get into highly competitve top schools in engineering and math. You can read more about the film in an EdWeek story here.

(An interesting sidenote: Documentary executive producer Bob Compton, who attended the screening, told us that while the film has been very well received among policymakers, parents, and students, one group has consistently voiced skepticism about the film's message: those affiliated with schools of education, who train our teachers.)

I'm not one of those skeptics. What I took away from the film is that these students from India and China are motivated to excel by basic survival instincts. Students in these countries, and their families, have been affected by poverty, hunger, and what used to be their country's isolation from the outside world. Now, as one audience member put it last night, the Indian and Chinese students are illustrative of an "economic Darwinism." Working hard in school is part of their culture, their mentality, and the result of the high expectations set by their country, their teachers, and their parents.

That kind of motivation that drives students in India and China can't be legislated here, or packaged neatly into a presidential education platform. Sure, the Democrats' call for prekindergarten is probably a good idea. And maybe the Republicans' idea for more school choice could work. But what will it take to change the American mindset towards education?


Well I have one of those "tough engineering degrees" from a bona-fide "tough school" and I was greeted in 1990 following graduation with an economic recession. I was unable to find work in my field, even as a cheaply-priced new grad. 10 years later, I found my engineering position eliminated, and outsourced to labor in a country where engineers with my qualifications work for cheap. I now work in a lower-paying "support" position, rather than as the highly paid software engineer I once was. Why am I willingly doing this? For job security! No matter how smart we might be in math or science, there is ALWAYS someone elsewhere that will do the grind work for much less money. That's the hidden agenda here in this film, and the bottom line of the venture capitalists - cheap labor and maxmization of profits. So don't be fooled by this "America stinks" campaign, its really about saving big business a lot of money by justifying the continued outsourcing of our lives - VCs are telling us in this film "look how pathetic our labor force is going to be. Any company would be justified not hiring American workers." Meanwhile the European company who employs me today hands their own European workers 6 weeks of paid vacation, while I get just 6 days! Look, Americans already know what we do best - create and innovate, while the rest of the developing world throws their cheap labor at our creations to reverse engineer and mass-produce them later. I think there is nothing intrinsically wrong with our American way - we educate all, and if there is no motivation within to study more in a particular subject then there are certainly solid economic and cultural reasons to back that up. Good luck to you all, it's a rat race out there -

The roadmap is very good, I think. But it must be evaluated a certain time.

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