Does a Japanese author know more about what the United States should do to shore up its educational system than the experts in this country?
Probably not, but in his headline-making new book, "The Japan That Can Say No," Shintaro Ishihara outlines objectives that, from his viewpoint, the Americans need to institute to remain competitive in the worldwide market.His list is surprisingly consistent with the six national goals set by the president and governors last year to make the United States pre-eminent in the world educationally by the turn of the century.
Those goals include having every child enter school ready to learn; reducing dropouts to 10 percent; having students demonstrate mastery of basic subject matters; becoming first in the world in science and math achievement; obliterating illiteracy; and having schools free of drugs and violence.
Ishihara hits on virtually all of these, but in addition, opines that the United States should allocate 5.0 percent of its gross national product to the furtherance of education.
In the 1990 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the United States is listed as spending 6.7 percent of its GNP for education, Canada 7.2 percent; Japan and the United Kingdom, 5.0; and West Germany 4.4.
That shoots holes in Ishihara's assumption that the U.S. is low in its spending, but it may not invalidate his assumption that we could be spending more than we do, given the relative wealth of the nation.
Each time I review the six national goals for education, which even our competitor, Ishitara, seems to see as the salvation of the American education system, I can't help seeing dollar signs.
Take just the first goal - to see that every child is able to enter school ready to learn. That means starting before the child is born - seeing to it that every child comes into the world as physically and mentally intact as possible. It means reducing teen pregnancies and the problem babies that result among these mothers in greater percentages. It means ending the pernicious drug addiction and sexually transmitted diseases among women that presage the births of thousands of impaired babies. It means promoting prenatal care to assure the health of babies from conception and ending the haphazard care that low-income mothers are likely to get and further, assuring the nutritional welfare of their children after birth.
It means, in all likelihood, more public early childhood programs for preschoolers whose homes are educationally sterile, if not outright troubled.
That's just a quick run-by of one national goal.
At the other end of the spectrum is the challenge to eliminate illiteracy, and the list of considerations would be just as long, if not longer.
Not to set goals would be foolish. To set unrealistic goals without providing states the means to achieve at least some degree of success toward meeting those goals is to doom them to failure.
As I analyze them, the academic features of the national goals will be much simpler to achieve than those that assume a responsible, education-minded, healthy and moral citizenry. One without the other would be useless.
Ishitara gives a clue to his own expectation as to whether the United States will actually achieve the kind of educational status of which it is possible.
The subtitle of his book, "Why Japan Will be First Among Equals," is a clear indication that he expects the United States to fail to quite measure up in the international arena.
It would be nice to prove him wrong.