Apparently the National Association of Secondary School Principals obtained a copy of my film and took it as being an attack on US high schools - which of course it is not.
You can read their critique here
I posted a reply to their blog, but it must be approved first by the principals before it appears on their site. In the interim, here is my response:
As the creator and Executive Producer of Two Million Minutes, I thought I might offer a few comments to this post.
First, I'm sorry that you felt the film was biased. Both the Director and Producer of the documentary hold Master's degrees in Journalism from Berkeley and we took every reasonable step to make the film as objective as possible.
Ironically, the largest buyers of the DVD on our web site are, in fact, high school teachers and principals - they seem to be using the film to help their students become more globally aware in a Flat World.
To address your specific criticisms: We did not "stack the deck". The three schools were chosen for these reasons: 1) they represent the upper echelon of high school education in each country and 2) the families of the students have relatively similar socio-economic backgrounds.
The specific students were selected as follows: 1) we asked the administrators of each school for students academically in the top 5% and 2) we also asked for students who were held in high regard by their peers.
In America, Neil is class president, was on the varsity football team, on the school newspaper and got a full scholarship to study Computer Graphics at Purdue his junior year of high school. Brittany graduated #28 in her class of nearly 1,000, was involved in numerous school activities and was seen as a leader. She is currently 4.0 pre-med at Indiana University.
In China, the boy chosen was ranked #1 in math in his school - something that his peers in China regard highly. However, as the movie shows, despite his obvious math skill he was rejected by the Math Program at Beijing University - because so many other Chinese students were even more gifted in math. He did not get into the college of his choice.
The same is true of the Chinese girl - she is smart, a talented violinist and ballet dancer, but she was rejected by Yale - her first choice.
The Indian students experienced the same outcome - they are clearly smart, have studied incredibly hard for years, but they are rejected by the top Indian colleges - because thousands of Indians scored higher on the entrance exams.
So, while the intensity of the Indian and Chinese students may, to American eyes, make them appear to be tops in their country, in fact, they are far from the top.
I have spent a lot of time in Indian and Chinese schools, as well as American schools. I would contend that the work ethic you see is entirely accurate for all three countries for the upper half of typical high school students.
Your observation about engineering. In hindsight, I regret I did not devote more time to the other subjects that Indian and Chinese students study in high school. In fact, they study subjects typical of American schools - for example Apoorva, the Indian girl in the film, had the following curriculum in 9th and 10th grade: English language, English literature, Hindi language and literature [2nd language], World History and Civics, World Geography, Algebra, Geometry, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Computer Programming (elective).
In 11th and 12th, she chose a more technical track, not dissimilar from Brittany's interest in preparing for pre-med: English Language and Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics through Calculus, Biology, Computer Science and Environmental Education (a newly required course). During middle school, art and music are standard subjects as are more social sciences.
I employee over 100 Indians and Chinese - engineers, business majors, teachers, artists and general administrative people. From my personal experience, I have found both cultures to produce very well rounded individuals - smart, creative, socially adept, with wonderful senses of humor. They are also excellent in math and science, but they are decidedly not simply "left-brained" nerds. For their ages, they do know more about math and science than their American peers, but that knowledge has not been gained at the sacrifice of literature, history, geography, politics, art or music.
Finally, you assert that I used "statistical slight of hand" by not showing Chinese and Indian dropout rates. There is only so much one can cover in 54 minutes, but my intent was not to deceive.
Below are the current enrollment statistics on each country. It is true a large percentage of Indians and Chinese do not even get to high school. But their absolute numbers are so large that a high drop out rate still leaves a lot of students getting an education. I'm not sure America can take much comfort in Indian and Chinese drop out rates.
ENROLLMENT IN EACH COUNTRY -
US: K-8 - 38 million students, H.S. - 16 million, College -17 million
China: K-8 - 170 million students, H.S. - 24 million, College - 16 million
India: K-8 - 176 million students, H.S.- 35 million, College - 8 million
I'm sorry you took my film as critical of American high schools - that was not the intent. Rather I had hoped to show how students in each country allocate their time - between school, study, sports, extracurricular activities and jobs.
What the film illustrates is that students allocate their time very differently in each country based mostly on families, community recognition and their culture - not simply because of the school system.
The question I hoped to raise with the film was - does it matter to America's economic future that Indian and Chinese students spend more time building their intellectual foundation than American students? We tried to show the simple reality in each country, and then let each viewer draw their own conclusion.
I hope U.S. educators will view Two Million Minutes as an opportunity to gain insight into the educational priorities and practices of the two largest countries on Earth and not as criticism of American high schools.