Joanne Yatvin, veteran educator, now retired after a long career as teacher, principal, superintendent, and president of the National Council of Teachers of English, offers the following observations:

I recently read two articles about education in the New York Times. One recounted the shortage of teachers in many U.S states, while the other was about the shortage of students in rural areas of South Korea. Each article was fascinating in its own way; the first one for its lack of candor about why teachers are in such short supply, and the second for its many details about the range of services still offered in a public school that has only one student left. Let me explain.

The writer of the first article attributes the teacher shortage solely to economics, claiming that the massive teacher layoffs of the past few years were the natural result of the recession and that today’s lack of teacher applicants is due only to “fewer people training to be teachers.” At the same time she says nothing about the number of teachers who have left their jobs voluntarily. Thus she can also avoid mentioning the issues that have rocked the teaching profession and our public schools for the past several years, such as rating teachers by student test scores, the bad-mouthing of public schools in the media, and many governors’ preference for charter schools. She also fails to mention that the states hurting most for teachers offer low salaries and suppress teachers unions.

Admittedly, the second article is of a different genre altogether; it describes the culture in South Korea and explains the economic changes that have sent almost all young families and their children to the industrialized cities. But most interesting to me were the writer’s emphasis on the positive attitudes of local people toward education and his detailed description of the last student’s schooling. He shows readers the student’s positive attitude toward learning and the teacher’s close attention to both the academic and social growth of his student.

As evidence of the community’s continuing dedication to education the writer describes the almost empty school where there are still big screen TVs, computers, table tennis tables, telescopes, book-filled shelves, and musical instruments all the classrooms. In addition, he tells us that a painting teacher and a guitar teacher still come to the school twice a week to give lessons to the lone student. The local educational office delivers two lunches to the school every day.
In recounting all of this, my purpose was not to criticize one writer and praise the other, but to give you just a taste of the differences between the two countries in their treatment of public education. With all our wealth, power, and sense of “American Exceptionalism” we can surely give our schools, our teachers, and our children a better deal than what they have now.