Only 6 percent of Korean eighth-graders expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39 percent of eighth-graders in the United States, according to the latest annual study on education by the Brown Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The problem is that the surveyed Korean students are better at math than the American students.
Their kids are unsure and good, in short, while ours are cocky and dumb -- not exactly a good position for the U.S. to occupy in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Unfortunately, we're in that position of unskilled self-satisfaction by design. For those in American education with an aversion to competition, an aversion to the thought of winners and losers, the idea of putting self-esteem ahead of academic performance was an easy concept to adopt.
Rather than seeing self-esteem as something that flows from good performance, they made self-esteem the first priority, assuming that good performance would flow from an inflated level of self-satisfaction.
It's like those no-score ball games. The goal is good feelings. Everyone plays, no one loses, every kid gets a trophy. It's like the teachers' contracts -- no scorecard, no linking of pay hikes to performance, everyone's a winner.
It's a mind-set that sees score-keeping as too judgmental, too oppressive, too capitalist, too likely to deliver inequality and injured self-images, whether it's with paychecks or on the ball field.
Or as Allen Guttmann, professor of English and American studies at Amherst College, said it in the Journal of Contemporary History: "A small but prolific group of French and German neo-Marxist historians and sociologists have argued that modern sports are a mirror image of capitalist institutions, and are, therefore, inherently repressive."
Richard Bath reported on the same egalitarian thinking in Europe: "In 2002, Brian Harris, the head sports officer with Edinburgh city council, provoked criticism by suggesting that children on the losing side at a football match would be spared 'psychological hurt' if the referee scored a few goals on their behalf. A year later the head teacher of an English primary school ruled that parents should be banned from school sports day because children would be 'embarrassed' if they lost a race in front of them."
To additionally reduce psychological hurt, Chief Illiniwek, after 81 years, has danced his last dance as a mascot at the University of Illinois. Similarly, the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards. Bullets was more accurate.
Also upsetting can be booing, especially for lousy players. To fix things, "the organization that presides over high school sports in Washington state is considering a ban on booing at sporting events," reports Joe Queenan in the New York Times, regarding guidelines for fan behavior issued by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association that would outlaw booing as well as offensive chants.
The booing ban is just the most recent in a series of decrees from the association regarding fans. "The association's rules already prohibit handmade signs and artificial noisemakers at state tournament basketball games," reports Queenan, and also prohibit "negative remarks about officiating before, during or after an athletic event, urging those dissatisfied with the officiating to submit a complaint in writing."
An official is supposed to hear nothing but silence when he makes a bad call -- no noise calling for an instant replay. Just send a letter, like to Congress.
The executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, Michael Colbrese, says he can't understand why people "think it's acceptable to boo in the first place."
It might be the opposite. We might not be booing enough in the United States. In politics, for instance, try nowadays to organize a group booing of George W. Bush and you end up several blocks removed and booing inside a chain-link cage.
The British yah-boo system is better. Hackneyed politicians in the House of Commons can't get through more than a few lines of their speeches before being hit with a barrage of taunts and jeers. It cuts the pomposity.
Look back in history. The countries that got most in trouble were the ones that quit the booing, quit heaping abuse on their politicians. What's bad is when everyone stays quietly in line, doing "Sieg Heil," no matter how nuts it gets.
And so, we're now at the point where we can't bring our own Jack Daniel's to the game, can't smoke and can't holler. Why go?