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The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way | [Amanda Ripley]

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way

How do other countries create "smarter" kids? In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems they've never seen before. They are learning to think, in other words, and to thrive in the modern economy.What is it like to be a child in the world's new education superpowers? In a global quest to find answers for our own children, author and Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley follows three Americans embed­ded in these countries for one year.
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Publisher's Summary

How do other countries create "smarter" kids? In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems they've never seen before. They are learning to think, in other words, and to thrive in the modern economy.What is it like to be a child in the world's new education superpowers?

In a global quest to find answers for our own children, author and Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley follows three Americans embed­ded in these countries for one year. Kim, 15, raises $10,000 so she can move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, 18, exchanges a high-achieving Minnesota suburb for a booming city in South Korea; and Tom, 17, leaves a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland.

Through these young informants, Ripley meets battle-scarred reformers, sleep-deprived zombie students, and a teacher who earns $4 million a year. Their stories, along with groundbreaking research into learning in other cultures, reveal a pattern of startling transformation: none of these countries had many "smart" kids a few decades ago. Things had changed. Teaching had become more rigorous; parents had focused on things that mattered; and children had bought into the promise of education.

A journalistic tour de force, The Smartest Kids in the World is a book about building resilience in a new world-as told by the young Americans who have the most at stake.

©2013 Amanda Ripley (P)2013 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"A compelling, instructive account regarding education in America, where the arguments have become 'so nasty, provincial, and redundant that they no longer lead anywhere worth going.'" (Kirkus)

What Members Say

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  •  
    André ORLANDO, FL, United States 01-14-14
    André ORLANDO, FL, United States 01-14-14 Member Since 2011

    I love AUDIBLE! I never get mad at traffic jams and can listen to many different books, despite my short time.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great teachers+ Raise kids' bar+ Don't exaggerate"

    Why certain kids learn so much and others don't? Amanda Ripley try to answer this and other questions with "The Smartest Kids in the World". She goes after the PISA results (a triennial international survey which evaluates skills and knowledge of 15 year old students from more than 65 countries) and focus in 3 countries: South Korea, Finland and Poland, comparing them with United States.
    She follows 3 exchange students, giving a personal, concrete and fresh air to the story, constructing an easy to learn and very interesting book.
    Amanda argues that PISA results don't measure only theory, but readiness to solve day to day problems, think critically, how to use the knowledge and comunicate well.
    *Korea-- The pressure cooker that goes to extremes-- The public school is not free- in Busan, the price for the family is around 1500 dollars/ year. The school starts at 8 and goes till 16:10. Then, the kids clean the classroom (the kids that don't behave use red pinnies and clean the bathroom). At 16:30, they settled back in their seats for test-prep classes. Then they eat dinner in the school cafeteria. After dinner came yaja, a two hour period of study loosely supervised by teachers. Around 21:00 they get out of school, but the study is not over yet. 70% still go to a private tutor or hagwons till the curfew, 23:00. The teenagers do nothing but study. And they become exhausted, so they have to sleep in class the next day (they bring pillows to school). All of this because they need to pass the exams to enter the 3 best Universities of Korea. The people think that performance comes after hard work and is not a God given talent. They have an academic purpose well established and high expectations of what they can achieve. Education is the country's treasure.
    * Finland- The role model- The teaches are rigidly selected, earn well and have autonomy and prestige. Differently from the rest of the world where teachers teach what they don't know they are expected to be the best from their generation. There is a common sense that runs through society about the seriousness of education (everybody care) and a clarity of purpose. Kids can learn how to fail and get back to their feet while still young.
    *Poland- a country where 1/6 of children live in poverty, where criminality was high and had a beaten soul. A country that should fail in Pisa, but the Minister of Education took action.The reforms that Handke implemented changed the point of equilibrium-- put more rigor into the system, changed curriculum, created 4.000 schools overnight, forced teachers to learn more and raised expectations about what kids should accomplish. He showed the world that reforms don't take so much time to be felt. Three years later, everybody saw the jump.
    Amanda Ripley writes that even today's blue collar jobs need critical thinking and that people graduate from high school without the basics. So, to have the education that our kids deserve, we need to be rigid and care about knowledge, within certain limits.
    Great book!

    16 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Niall bremerton, WA, United States 11-23-13
    Niall bremerton, WA, United States 11-23-13 Member Since 2010
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    "a Wanna-be fiction writer avoids the subject"

    This is a book about kids who wanted to go to school in Europe and found ways to go. This is NOT a book about how those schools are different. Any discussion about the differences in the school systems is a footnote to the real topic of the book- long overly dramatized mini-novels about kids who want to go to Europe- Why do they want to go? Meh, Not important. Every time the writer comes dangerously close to having to say something substantive about her supposed topic she very suddenly and awkwardly changes the subject. She might have though she was being suspenseful but I don't have a whole lot of patience for writers who want to fill their non-fictions with pointless stories, all of which are overly dramatized to pad her book. Who cares how depressed these kids were about the weather and what they thought about their hair when they wanted to go to school in Europe? How about telling us the differences in the schools? Differences in the administration? Differences in the techniques? Differences in the discipline? Differences in the teachers? Differences in the culture? Differences in the schedules, curriculum, athletics, funding ANYTHING! What about a book about The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way? Would that be too much to ask? I am going to get a refund. This book is nothing like advertised. People who like short novels about kids getting into European schools will find this book entertaining.

    73 of 82 people found this review helpful
  •  
    thinblu7 Newark, DE United States 11-23-13
    thinblu7 Newark, DE United States 11-23-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Why aren't we paying attention to this??!!"
    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    As a relative newcomer to the U.S. high school instruction "business," I am shocked by the way our system operates. I am even more dismayed having read this book and coming to the realization that the information is out there on how to deliver an effective education. There is a way to deliver excellence in education and it begins by treating both students and educators with respect but we as a country are choosing not to utilize this information. Instead, we are wasting millions of taxpayer dollars chasing outmoded techniques... Why??!!


    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    telo United States 01-29-14
    telo United States 01-29-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Well read, good info on U.S. vs. other schools"
    What did you love best about The Smartest Kids in the World?

    There was a lot of good information and I do think the author did some interesting research using exchange students to compare different learning experiences around the world in some of the higher scoring countries.


    If you could give The Smartest Kids in the World a new subtitle, what would it be?

    How can we improve our schools?


    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. Spencer Greater NYC 11-13-13
    D. Spencer Greater NYC 11-13-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Excellent overview on US education"

    This book presents a US-centric view of how and why we are trending steadily downward in education, creating young adults who don't think as well as they would like. It made me realize this trend is not the fault of the teachers nor the students, but there is a lot we can do to affect positive change if we get involved in the right way. The book shows us the possibilities by looking closely at some other countries. I learned a lot. This book was journalistic and broad minded, as opposed to being heavy handed and forcing you to conclusions, and it is easy to stay focused with the audio version.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
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    Matthew Ottawa, ON, Canada 08-24-13
    Matthew Ottawa, ON, Canada 08-24-13 Member Since 2008

    Avid audiobook addict!

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    "Interesting but disjointed bunch of stories"

    This reads like a bunch of newspaper articles by a good journalist. Memorable real stories, not a bunch of opinions.

    15 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Seth H. Wilson Venice, CA USA 11-25-13
    Seth H. Wilson Venice, CA USA 11-25-13 Member Since 2007
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    "A Roadmap for Improving American Education"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I would recommend this book to anyone who values education. Of course, the problem, as Ripley points out, is that education is undervalued in American society. So the people who need to read this book the most probably never will. Even so, I do in fact recommend this book to everyone and anyone when the topic of education arises in conversation.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    Amanda Ripley manages to balance broad, general, larger-than-life issues like standardized testing and diversity in education with very intimate stories about students and educators. In fact, the very personal stories of the three students she follows during the course of the book serve to illustrate and bring into focus those larger themes. It's very important that Ripley strikes this balance, because she's taking on some sacred cows of the American educational system, namely sports and technology in school. Because she lets the people in her narrative speak for themselves, though, the book comes off as less didactic than it otherwise might.


    What about Kate Reading’s performance did you like?

    I listen to a lot of fantasy and science fiction audiobooks, and, I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of Kate Reading's narration in that genre. I find it bland and lacking in that adventurous spark intrinsic to the books she's tapped to narrate.

    However, she's an absolutely perfect narrator for a work of non-fiction like this one. She infuses her narration with enough emotion to make the students, parents, and teachers in Ripley's narrative feel alive, but not so much that it overpowers the intellectual themes and ideas that the author is trying to convey. Reading also nails the wide range of accents featured in the book, from mellifluous Finnish to sparse Korean.


    If you could give The Smartest Kids in the World a new subtitle, what would it be?

    And How They Got That Way


    Any additional comments?

    As an aspiring professor, I realize I'm incredibly biased, but I think The Smartest Kids in the World just might be the most important book you read this year. When politicians lament our foundering education system, they point to the decline of American test scores in math and science, areas that are increasingly important in today's global economy. While Ripley certainly mentions this too, she points to a much more pervasive and far-reaching problem: most Americans don't value education.

    Sure, parents are involved in schools, but, Ripley argues, it's usually only to make brownies for the annual bake sale. And when university is mentioned, most people immediately think of their favorite NCAA sports team. The real skills needed to succeed and lead in the 21st century--creativity, innovation, lateral thinking--can only truly be learned by students who are fully invested in the learning process, and who have a support system robust enough to keep them on track.

    True, the book doesn't outline any cut-and-dried solutions, if there are any. But I think she does accurately frame the problem, which serves as an excellent starting point for much-needed difficult discussions on where our priorities lie.

    9 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marsha Tierra Verde, FL, United States 04-22-14
    Marsha Tierra Verde, FL, United States 04-22-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Missed the mark for her audience"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    The book was clear and well-written, but if she was writing for education experts, it was not scholarly enough - not enough number crunching or tangible outcomes. If she was writing for the lay person, say, with a couple of kids in public school, there was not enough interest and too few entertaining anecdotes. If she was writing for rich people, who can pay for the very best education for their kids and had spaces saved in preppy daycare from the moment their home-pregnancy stick turned colors (which seems to be the group she aimed the closest to), there was not nearly enough specificity. She does suggest visiting the classrooms and watching the children rather than reading the bulletin boards, but that seems a pretty vague outcome for all the studies she was quoting.


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    There is no real ending. The disappointment was that the "answer" to educating your children (or "our" children) well, is sort of a shot in the dark - pay some attention, but not too much attention; some things work in some societies but not in others. It comes down to choosing a lesser of evils. That's sad.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrea 04-20-14
    Andrea 04-20-14 Member Since 2012

    See Pee Ay (CPA) in Honolulu, Hawaii. That Ay part should be pronounced the way the fonz would pronounce it.

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    "fun case study & not scientifically substantiated"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    It's fun in that anecdotal sense, but not a book I would use to backup some argument about education at a cocktail party (unless you know, I was already into my 3rd drink).


    What did you like best about this story?

    The part where it pointed out that Americans put way more emphasis on team sports in high school than other countries. Disclosure: I sucked at team sports in high school.


    If you could give The Smartest Kids in the World a new subtitle, what would it be?

    I heart Finland!


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    scott Mississauga, Ontario, Canada 09-29-13
    scott Mississauga, Ontario, Canada 09-29-13 Member Since 2010
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    "A clear look at education"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    A must read for parents of young children. This book cuts through the education and learning hype.


    Any additional comments?

    The book examines the pros and cons of four educational systems Korea, Finland, Poland and the United States and comes up with some interesting observations and recommendations.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
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