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Are U.S. Students Lazy or Lacking a Work Ethic?

Who is to Blame for Lack of Achievement in Math and Science?

The Pew Research results of a study of achievement in math and science that compares high school students around the world clearly show U.S. students are lagging behind their counterparts. The question is why. Who is to blame for these disappointing results and how can we, as a nation, turn the tide?

Here are the results for the top countries followed by the results for the U.S.:

Singapore

Math: 573

Science: 551

Hong Kong

Math: 561

555

Taiwan

Math: 560

Science: 523

South Korea

Math: 554

Science:538

Japan

Math: 536

Science:547

Liechenstein

Math: 535

Science: 525

Switzerland

Math: 531

Science: 515

Netherlands

Math: 523

Science: 522

Estonia

Math: 521

Science: 541

Finland

Math: 519

Science: 545

Canada

Math: 518

Science: 525

U.S.

Math: 481(#35)

Science: 497 (#27)

There is no way to positively spin these numbers. It is true the U.S. students' math scores have improved over the past two decades, but that is hardly worthy of boasting or pointing to these results and saying we are on the rise.

Work Ethic and Achievement

The results show what all of us who are educators have known for a long time. Students from Asian countries have a stronger work ethic than those from the U.S. It is a cultural phenomenon driven by what is ingrained in these students from their earliest ages. Education is something to value; achievement brings respect to the family while failure brings dishonor; developing a strong work ethic will help you throughout life.

Why do U.S. students lack such a view of educational achievement and a strong work ethic? What many of the American kids lack is the motivation and self-discipline. No doubt the cause is the endless hours they spend growing up playing video games while their counterparts are putting more hours into homework. For sure it is a lack of parental involvement and taking the easy way out, which is to let their kids do what they want, rather than discipline them and serve as a guide and mentor to achieve educationally.

The Importance of 'Grit'

A study released by University of Pennsylvania researchers Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman suggests that the reason so many U.S. students are "falling short of their intellectual potential" is not "inadequate teachers, boring textbooks and large class sizes" and the rest of the usual litany cited by the so-called reformers — but "their failure to exercise self-discipline."

The researchers found that "grit" was more of a determinant of academic success than IQ. I could not agree more based on my 30+ years of teaching college students. According to Duckworth, "grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality."

I previously blogged about the importance of grit to workplace success. Grit is the new buzzword for success. Duckworth's research shows that grit really does matter even more than intelligence. More than talent. Even more than hard work. It’s a combination of unshakable motivation, persistence, and determination. And the belief that improvement is always possible.

Becoming a Better Student = Becoming a Better Citizen

Politicians and education bureaucrats talk about reforming our educational system, something we have heard for about for at least 20 years. Like most things in America, throwing money at the problem is not the answer especially when the beneficiaries of such "reforms" do not care enough to change their priorities and work habits and "throw themselves into the books."

I say to American students: You don't become a better citizen by spending more time on your iPhones and iPads, and on social media sites. You do not become more of a contributing member of society by watching oftentimes vulgar and senseless television shows and movies. Becoming a better person and workplace employee is a contact sport. You try your hardest; maybe fail at times; and then pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and try even harder the next time. You develop good habits that way; ones that will serve you well throughout your lifetime.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz on June 21, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Emeritus Professor from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at www.workplaceethicsadvice.com.

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