mandarinism has long been criticized for turning a country's school years into “examination hell, ”—a coercive process in which students spend a large part of their youths in drills and rote learning and are forced to neglect all other aspects of their lives and character development. As Rohlen (1983) puts in his incisive critique of Japan's high schools: “What Americans might regard as the lunatic fringe—students memorizing whole English dictionaries or doing seven hours of preparation a night for a year—actually sets the pace in this sort of competition [of the university entrance exams]. Moderation is a losing strategy as long as entrance examinations measure the gross absorption of knowledge and the perfection of problem-solving and test-taking skills” (p. 106). But moderation might well be the hallmark of education in a civil society—a state where the multiple and inevitably competing influences on education have a chance to check and balance each other.
Inevitably, different nations come to emphasize different dimensions of civility in the course of their political and social development. Inevitably, they become one-sided in their pursuit of justice and democracy. Perhaps we are at a point where Americans and Europeans can hope to engage in a new and more profound dialogue about the future of civil society. The libertarian dimension of civil society has been pursued and institutionalized in the United States. The communitarian dimension has been institutionalized in Western Europe. People on both sides have reason to look across the Atlantic for a more complete sense of how to advance civility and education.
Berger, P. L., & Neuhaus, R. J. (1996). To empower people. From state to civil society. 2nd ed. (M. Novak, Ed.) Washington, DC: AEI Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1989). The state nobility. Elite schools in the field of power. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.