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009 Topics: The American educational system; Sweet 16; effect versus to affect; to feel; maybe versus perhaps

时间:2018-05-01   访问量:2465   View PDF
Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 9.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 9. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Visit our website at

On this Café, we’re going to have one large but very important topic: American education. We’re going to talk a little bit about the history of American education, but more importantly, we’re going to talk about the typical experiences that an American goes through when going through our educational system. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our topic today is the school system in the United States. The school system in the U.S. is unlike, or not like, many other school systems in other countries. In many countries, the school system is run by the national – or what we would call here in the U.S., “federal” – government. But the situation is quite different here in the U.S. In the U.S., we do not have a national school system, although the national government does influence and in some way controls our school system through money and regulation.

The beginnings of the American school system that we have today were in the middle of the 19th century. There were a couple of goals that educational reformers in the mid-19th century tried to accomplish and eventually did accomplish. The American education system is built on these three basic goals or principles.

The first principle is that education should be free. From an early stage, or period, in our history, we Americans have seen education as a way of advancing in life, especially economically and financially.

The second major principle of U.S. education is that it should be compulsory. “Compulsory” (compulsory) means that you have to go, that you don’t have a choice, that you are required to attend, or go to, school. “Compulsory” did not mean, and does not mean, that you have to go to a public school. We’ll talk about public versus private schools in a moment. “Compulsory” means that you had to go to a school – some school, any school – up to a certain age. Originally, this age was much lower than it is now; currently in most states, you have to go to school until you are 16 years old.

But compulsory schooling was considered important because Americans wanted to have everyone educated to a certain level in order to be good citizens and in order not to create a country where some people were educated – and therefore had all the power – and some people were not. Now, whether we actually succeeded, whether America today really is that kind of place, is another question, but at least that was the theory that American education reformers began with.

The third major principle of American education is that it should be universal. “To be universal” means that it is available to all children, not just the children in this area or the children in that area, just in the city or just for rich people. All children should have the opportunity for a basic education – and indeed, this is the reason for making schooling compulsory.

Now, how were (and are) these goals put into practice, or implemented? How are they carried out? I referred earlier to the fact that U.S. education system is not controlled by our federal government directly. Instead, each state has control over several important aspects of education. States determine the educational policy of their schools. Typically, states issue, or give, licenses to teachers, especially teachers at what is called “public school,” or a government-run and government-funded school.

You have to have a license, usually, to work in a public, government-run school. This means that you have to go to college, and in most states you have to either take an exam (an examination, a test) or pass some sort of licensing requirement that would prove that you are able to teach. So, states are the ones that determine who gets to teach by granting, or giving out, teaching licenses.

States also typically determine the general topics that students will study in that state. This is perhaps one of the most surprising things about American education for people who are from other countries. There is not a national curriculum. A “curriculum” (curriculum) is a list, basically, of topics or subjects that one studies in school. The curriculum is the content of your schooling.

Will you study history? Will you study math? Will you study science? If you study those subjects, those topics, what exactly do you study? Will you study the history of England? The principles of geometry? The biology of birds?

The curriculum of a school or school system (a set or group of schools) specifies, or tells you, what you will study and what teachers will teach. The states typically determine the curriculum for the schools in that state. The State of California decides what will be taught in California public schools, the State of New York decides what students in New York schools will study, and so forth.

Now, in practice, most states have very similar curriculums. They all tend to or typically require their students to study history, to study math, to study reading, and so forth. However, it’s still not a national requirement. You’re not required to teach certain topics by the federal or national government. But the state doesn’t control all aspects or areas of schooling in the U.S. either. The actual control or management of the schools is usually in the hands of, or in the control of, the local community, the local government, through what we call “school districts.”

A “school district” is a region, or an area, within the state that decides how many schools will be built and where they will be built. The local or community school district also decides on which teachers will be hired. They decide on the books that children will read and how much money will be spent in the school. These school districts are typically controlled by what’s called a “school board” (board). A “school board” is a group of men and women who are elected to run the school system. This is also very different compared to many other countries.

The people who run the school districts are not the same people who control other parts of the local or city government. School districts are usually separate from the local government, although they are part of the government within a given state. School districts are sometimes divided up by city, so that each city in the state has its own school district. Sometimes they’re divided up by what is called a “county” (county), which is a smaller area, or region, within a state.

Most U.S. states are divided up into these smaller areas called “counties.” A county isn’t always the same as a city. In fact, typically counties are bigger than cities, and there are often several cities inside of one county. Here in Los Angeles, we have the city of Los Angeles, but we also have Los Angeles County. The county has, I think, 60 or 70 – maybe more – cities inside of this particular region or area.

School districts, as I noted, are run by, or operated by, school boards, which are elected by people who live in that region or area. The school boards, then, are the ones that hire the leaders of the schools in that area. The main leader of the school system in a local area is called the “superintendent,” and the superintendent hires other people, and they hire other people, and eventually you have yourself a school system.

While policies of free, compulsory, and universal education were present from the very beginning of the U.S. school system, it wasn’t really until after the 1940s and during the 1950s that you saw a majority of Americans (more than 50 percent) graduating from high school. My uncles, for example, who went to school in the 1930s never graduated from high school – at least, most of them did not. However, it wasn’t necessary for them to graduate from high school because they were going to join the family business, and in the McQuillan family, that business was plumbing.

Plumbers are the people who fix toilets and sinks and water pipes in houses and buildings. It wasn’t necessary for people becoming plumbers to get a high school diploma back in those years, and so my uncles did not. In fact, we often talk about students who, after the age of 16, leave school before graduating from high school. We call these “dropouts” (dropouts). A “dropout” is someone who starts school, but doesn’t finish it.

Normally we talk about high-school dropouts. We don’t talk about elementary or grade school dropouts – grades, say, one through six – because you’re required to go to school until the age of sixteen. However, after sixteen, a lot of young teenagers decide not to continue going to school, and their parents, unhappily, don’t make them go to school, and so they drop out or they become, using the noun, dropouts.

I want to talk a little bit about the different levels of schooling. I mentioned a second ago elementary or grade schools. Let me talk about the three different levels of schools in the U.S. In most school districts, the lowest level of schooling – that is, the earliest that you can start school – is around age four or five, in what is called “kindergarten.” “Kindergarten” is school for children who are not yet old enough to go to the first grade.

Normally, to go to the first grade, or level, you must be age six or about to turn age six – about to be age six – in September of the school year. The school year in the United States, I should add, runs from, or goes from, late August or early September through, usually, early June. Our summer vacation is June, July, and August. There’s an old joke: There are three reasons to become a teacher in the United States – June, July, and August. “Kindergarten,” then, is the lowest level of schooling that most public school districts offer.

There is something below kindergarten – what we would call “preschool.” “Pre-” as a prefix means “before.” So, before regular school, before kindergarten, you can go to preschool. Most preschools, however, are private and not run by the local school districts. Preschools take children from age three or so. It depends on the particular preschool. Below preschool, we have what would be called “daycare” (daycare). Daycare is where children would go beginning really as early as a month or two, if the parents are working and can’t stay home to take care of them.

After kindergarten, school sort of officially begins, or really begins, in what is called “elementary” or “grade school.” This includes grades one, two, three, four, five, and six. In some places, grade school is actually grades one through eight. When I went to school, for example, the school had grades one through eight all in one school building. But in most school districts now, grade school or elementary school goes up to grade six, which would be about age eleven or twelve for the children.

After grade school, you have what is called “middle school,” or sometimes “junior high,” or “junior high school.” Middle school can include grades five, six, seven, and/or eight, but in some school districts it may just be grades five and six, with a separate school for grades seven and eight. It’s very confusing because every school district can decide how it’s going to divide up the grades among the different levels. Some school districts have what they call a middle school for grades five and six and then a junior high for grades seven, eight, and nine.

The highest level of regular schooling is high school. When I say “regular schooling,” I mean schooling that is considered compulsory – schooling that you are required to receive. A “high school” typically includes grades nine, ten, eleven, and twelve, or sometimes just grades ten, eleven, and twelve when a district has a junior high that includes grade nine. And, to make things even more unclear, we often refer to grades nine through twelve or ten through twelve as “senior high school” instead of just “high school.”

I’ve been talking about schools and school districts, but it’s important to know that the American school system is actually divided into two groups, or sections. There is a public school system which the government runs and pays for, and then there is a group of private schools which are typically not organized into any sort of system, at least not like the public school districts are organized. Unlike public schools, which are free to anyone who wants to go to them, private schools almost always charge what is called “tuition.” “Tuition” (tuition) is money that you pay to go to a school.

The price of the tuition, the amount of the tuition, varies considerably. It varies a great deal. In some schools it might be low, just a few hundred dollars. In some schools it could be extremely high. You can easily pay ten to twenty thousand dollars a year in some private schools, especially in places such as Los Angeles and New York City. Most private schools, however, are not that expensive, but they are not cheap, either.

There are two kinds of private schools in the U.S. There are religious schools that are run by churches and religious organizations. The largest group of religious schools in the U.S. is Catholic schools. Catholic schools exist in every state and in most big cities. There are also nonreligious schools that are private schools. These tend to be, or are typically, more expensive.

Even at religious schools, you don’t need to be of a certain religious denomination or church to go to that school. As long as you are a good student – and, of course, have the money – they will usually accept you. In fact, in many large cities, Catholic schools have a majority of students who are not Catholic.

Now, why would you send your student, your child, to a Catholic school if you weren’t Catholic, or a religious school if you weren’t religious? The answer is that, unfortunately, in many large school districts, the quality of the local public, government schools is not very high, is not very good, and so parents who want to give their children the best education possible send them to a private school.

The quality of public schools in the United States depends a lot on the area where the school is located. In a rich area or a suburb of a large city that has a lot of money, the schools are usually quite good. In a large city such as Los Angeles, which has a lot of poor people who don’t have a lot of money (and therefore there isn’t a lot of money that the government can collect in taxes), the school system is not of a very high quality, typically.

What exactly do American students study when they get to school? Well, there are two basic kinds of classes in a school. One is a required class. This is a class, as the name implies, that everyone must take. In elementary school, almost everything that a child studies is required. It won’t surprise you to know that the topics or subjects they study include reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, which would include things like history and geography. American schools usually also have what’s called “physical education,” where students learn how to play games, but also get physical exercise.

Once you get into junior high school and senior high school – or, in some cases, middle school – you then have two different kinds of classes. You have required classes, which are things like English, math, and science, but you also have what are called “electives.” “Electives” (electives) are classes that are not required, but that you can take if you want to. In American high schools, there are all sorts of electives you can take in addition to the required classes.

You still have to take the required math classes and English classes and social studies classes and science classes, but you can also take languages, for example. You can study foreign languages. You can study, in some schools, art. You can study music. In some schools, they even have classes for different sports or for things like debating – where two people get up and give presentations about different topics, one for and one against.

You can study things such as what’s called “home economics.” “Home economics” is basically teaching you how to cook. Some schools have, what we called when I was in school, “shop” classes. “Shop” (shop) classes have nothing to do with going out and buying things in the store. Shop is a class where you learn how to build things.

The American education system has always tried to be as inclusive as possible. The word “inclusive” (inclusive) means that you try as much as possible to have all of the kids go through similar experiences. This is very different than in some countries where, usually at the age of ten or twelve, students are divided into two different, what we would call here in the U.S., “tracks” (tracks).

This practice of tracking – of dividing students, especially when they are in junior high, into the academic track for the smart students and the less-academic track for the not-so-smart students – is still done in some school districts, even if they don’t say that’s what they’re doing.

“Tracking” – dividing students up by ability, by how good of students they are – is done in a lot of school districts in an informal way. Students are encouraged to take certain classes that are less difficult academically than other classes, depending on how well they’ve done in school so far. There’s a debate, or disagreement, over whether this practice of tracking is helpful or hurtful to students, and we won’t try to solve that difficulty here.

How well do American students do? Well, if you read the newspapers in the United States, you might think that American students are among the worst students in the world. There’s a lot of information about American schools that is printed in the newspapers that would seem to indicate that the United States is doing a very bad job compared to other countries.

However, if you look at the data, the information, more carefully, what you’ll find is that there are really two Americas. There is the America of the rich, in the suburbs or in certain cities such as Beverly Hills here in Los Angeles, where the students do very, very well compared to students in other countries. In fact, they do as well as students in any other country in the world in math and in reading and science.

Then you have another America. You have students from poor areas, from big cities like Los Angeles and New York, where the students do very poorly. However, the difference between these two groups is in part because we have, if you remember, local control of our schools. Each individual city or county or area controls its own schools, which means the money that goes to those schools is going to be quite different. If you live in a rich area, you will have a lot of money to spend on your school system.

Even more importantly than this, however, children who come from families where there are a lot of books at home, where the parents themselves are college-educated, where the parents are there to encourage and support their students to do well in school – children who come from those families do much better in a school versus a child who may come from a family where there aren’t a lot of books at home, where perhaps the mother works all day and comes home and doesn’t have a chance to help her child, or perhaps doesn’t have the resources (the things she needs) to help the child.

The richer you are in the United States, the more likely it is that you’re going to do well in our school system. So, if you look at the best American schools, they in fact do just as well as some of the best schools in other countries. However, in part because we have local control, the amount of money that’s spent on education and the preparation of the students who come to the schools differs dramatically. It differs “wildly” – in a great amount, you might say.

Now let’s the answers some of the questions you have sent to us.

We have time for a couple of quick questions. The first question is somewhat related to our topic of schooling. It relates to teenagers. The question is about the term “sweet (sweet) 16.” What is a “sweet 16?” Well, it’s a party usually held by richer or more wealthy families for their daughters who are turning 16 years old. It’s a kind of birthday party that is supposed to celebrate a girl’s “coming of age” – the time in her life when she moves from being a child to being more like an adult. Sweet 16 parties are, as I say, not that common anymore, unless you come from a very wealthy family.

Our next question has to do with two words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things. The first word is “effect” (effect). The second word is “to affect” (affect). “Effect,” spelled with an “e,” is a result or an outcome produced by some action – the consequence of some activity.

“To affect,” with an “a,” as a verb means to change what happens or the way that something happens – to make a difference in someone’s life. You might say, “What is the effect of smoking cigarettes for many years?” Or, “What is one likely effect?” Well, one likely effect is that you will get lung cancer. That’s one consequence of that action.

You could also say, “How will smoking affect your lungs?” How will that action influence your lungs? And that second example, “affect” with an “a,” means to influence, to change. So, in some ways, they are related in meaning, but “effect” is a noun with an “e,” and “affect” with an “a” is a verb. We could also use the verb “to affect” to talk about influencing someone’s feeling, someone’s emotions – the way that they react or behave in a situation.

Some of you maybe asking, “Well, Jeff, isn’t effect with an “e” also a verb?” And the answer is yes, although it means something similar to “affect” with an “a” as a verb. It’s not quite as common. The word “affect” (affect) – spelled the same as the verb “affect” – is also a word. It’s a noun that refers to your emotions, your feelings. So, it gets a little confusing, as you can see.

Finally, we have a question about the difference between the word “maybe” (maybe) and “perhaps” (perhaps). Both of these words are used to mean “possibly” – something where you’re talking about a chance of something happening, but you’re not sure. “Perhaps” is a little more formal, I would say. “Maybe” is a little more casual, a little more informal in terms of conversation and writing, but really the two are used interchangeably, one for the other.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2006 by the Center for Educational Development.

dropout – someone who begins schooling but does complete it; someone who quits school early instead of completing his or her education

* Collin is a high school dropout who quit school during the middle of his tenth grade year.

public school system – a system of education or schooling for children, usually between the ages of 5 and 18, which is paid for by the government

* Mr. and Mrs. Stecker had two young children and wanted to move to a city with a good public school system.

tuition – money one must pay to attend a school; a fee that schools and universities charge for students to attend classes there

* If tuition continues to go up, Renae’s parents will no longer be able to afford to send her to a private academy.

kindergarten –the first year of formal education for most children in the United States

* Today, in kindergarten, Stephen learned some of the letters in the alphabet and counting to 20.

elementary school/grade school – the first six years of schooling, including kindergarten and grades one through five

* Pei’s favorite elementary/grade school teacher was her second grade teacher Mr. Wahl.

middle school/junior high – the years of schooling in between elementary and high school, usually including grades 6, 7, and 8 or students ages 12 to 14

* Neil did not like middle school even though he learned a lot in his junior high classes.

high school – the final year of basic schooling for children, usually covering grades 9 through 12, or students from the age of 15 through 18 years old

* Once Elsie got to high school, she discovered that she really enjoyed chemistry class and decided to study chemistry in college.

elective – a class that a student can choose to take that is not part of the required classes; optional courses or classes

* Ollie wasn’t sure which electives to take, but he finally decided on a painting class and a swimming class.

tracking – the process of separating students into different groups within a grade, often based on how good their grades and test scores are

* Due to the school’s tracking system, Hugo was placed in an honors program that covered more advanced material than the standard classes.

Sweet 16 – a party, usually held by wealthier families, for daughters turning 16 years old; a type of birthday party held to celebrate a girl's "coming of age" (the time in one's life when one moves from childhood to adulthood)

* For Eleanor’s Sweet 16, her parents rented a banquet hall and hired professional entertainers.

effect – a result or outcome produced by an action

* Do you think Bonnie’s talk with her son will have the effect she hopes for?

to affect – to impact or change what happens or the way that something happens; to make a difference to someone's life or attitude

* The final debate greatly affected the results of the election.

to feel – to have an emotion or to be in a certain emotional state; to have a certain physical condition; to believe or think

* Sharla felt sick to her stomach after eating the contaminated food.

maybe – possibly, typically used in casual situations; by or relating to a possible chance but not a definite outcome

* Maybe there will be rain this weekend, but it is too early to know for sure.

perhaps – possibly, typically used in formal situations; by or relating to a possible chance but not a definite outcome

* Perhaps Mr. Harren will be interested in attending the conference, but he is very busy and may not have the time.

What Insiders Know
Just Say ‘No’ to Sweets

With the holidays (Christmas and Hanukkah) just around the corner (coming very soon), the temptation (desire created by something pleasurable but bad for us) to eat a lot of sweets (desserts with a lot of sugar in them) is difficult to resist (say “no” to). Saying “no” to all of those good cookies and candy requires a lot of willpower. Willpower is the ability to control yourself when faced with (in the presence of) temptation, the ability to resist doing things that we want to do but that could harm (hurt) us.

There has been a debate in the scientific community recently about whether the amount of willpower you have is determined by your genes, and whether for some people willpower is limited – that is, if you use it, you will eventually run out (be without it) and therefore unable to resist certain temptations. If this is true, it means that some people aren’t always responsible for giving in to (not resisting) temptation, since biologically they are unable to stop themselves.

Other scientists say that willpower is not biologically limited. Instead, they say that what you believe about willpower makes the difference in how you use (or don’t use) your willpower. They say that if you believe that willpower is limited, then you will not be able to resist temptations for very long. Your belief will become reality.

But if you believe that you have all the willpower that you need, that it is not limited, then you will not give in, but will resist the temptations you encounter (meet). These scientists have run (conducted; done) psychological experiments with people and have shown that if you tell people that willpower is not limited, and people believe that, then they will be better able to resist doing bad things (like eating too many sweets).

Now, you can decide what you want to do with this information. If you want to eat as many cookies this holiday season (time of year) as you want, then you should probably believe that willpower is limited. Then you can say to yourself that there is nothing you can do about it – you must have that fifth cookie!

上一篇:008 Topics: Charles Dickens, Night, Dr. Phil, Sundance Film Festival, Donald Trump, Very vs. Really, Pretty vs. Quite

下一篇:010 Topics: Super Bowl parties; widow versus widower; advocate; trust me; buddy; mud; I bet; gonna; speaking of which; to pass away