An aspiration that crosses borders

The desire to learn can be discouraged, veiled, forbidden. But no matter how long it is forced to lie dormant, it is a strong enough motivator that sometimes people will risk their lives to fulfill it.

Nowhere has that been clearer than in the stories of joyous Afghan girls and women resuming their schooling - or, carrying on in public what they did secretly during the Taliban's reign.

But Americans need not look beyond our borders to see how deep this desire runs. The United States receives nearly a million immigrants a year, and their picture of a better life often has at its center a better education for their children.

It's humbling to realize that the schools have a long way to go to live up to our ideals. We are rightfully proud when we recount stories of immigrants who achieve great stature. Yet, according to researchers at Harvard, immigrants tend toward both extremes academically: A quarter of Americans who earn the Nobel Prize are immigrants, yet so are a large percentage of dropouts and youth offenders.

As challenging as it is for US communities to absorb so many newcomers with vastly different language skills and education levels (see story, this page), they've been wrestling with these issues long enough that countries with new influxes of immigrants are turning to them for advice (story, page 14).

Yet there's still the matter of motivating young people who have never known what it's like to live without school. Thirty-five percent of US high-schoolers surveyed for a study of 32 countries say they consider school a place they do not want to go. They aren't alone. In 20 of the countries, a quarter of students fall into this category of discontent (see www.pisa.oecd.org).

E-mail teichers@csmonitor.com

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