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Eighth Grade In Mexico
Sounds Like A Low-Ranked American University To Me
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Just now the furor over illegal immigration from Mexico is most wonderful a’boil, with much billingsgate and vituperation emanating from practically everywhere. Well and good. People should all afflict each other as vigorously as they can. I mean, why were we put on earth if not to be disagreeable?

Howsomever, I’ve received email telling me how poorly educated the Mexicans are. Hmmm. Maybe. You can make a case for it. I know that immigrant kids do terribly in school in the US, which augurs ill indeed. Most kids don’t read here either. Still, I found myself wondering just how bad the Mexican schools really are.

My stepdaughter, Natalia, aged fourteen and in the eighth grade, attends a public school in downtown Guadalajara, La Escuela Estatal Secundaria Manuel M. Dieguez Numero 7 para Senoritas. I am not an authority on Mexican education and cannot say whether hers is typical of urban Mexican schools. Nor do I know enough about American middle schools in general to make comparisons. The following are scans of pages from her texts of mathematics and biology accompanied by a few observations. I found them interesting. The translations are mine. Please excuse the sloppy scans and slow loads.

From Mathematicas 2 (ISBN 970-642-210-2)

“Consider two urns, one with 13 balls numbered from 1 to 13, and the other with 4 balls marked with the following figures: a red triangle, a red square, a black circle, or a black rhombus. How many combinations can be obtained by drawing one ball from each urn?

The possibilities can be represented by ordered pairs. For example, if from the first urn is drawn the ball marked with 2, and from the second, the ball with the square, the result is expressed thus: (2, square).The 52 pairs listed in the column to the left represent all possibilities…The probability of drawing an even number from the first urn is P(even) = 6/13 and the probability of drawing a red shape from the second urn is P(red) = 2/4 = ½. If the two probabilities are multiplied, the following is the result:

P(even) P(red) = (6/13)(1/2) = 6/26”

Not Nobel math, but not too bad, I thought.

From Biologia 2, her biology text:


“An important property of phospholipid bilayers is that they behave as liquid crystals; the carbohydrates and proteins can turn, and move laterally….” Note internal hydrophobic tails and external hydrophilic heads. This is not too shabby.

In the next pages is an account of both aerobic and anaerobic respiration, the 36 molecules of adenosine triphosphate resulting from aerobic glycolysis, and so on.

Early in Biologia 2 is a treatment of the role of RNA, including the substitution of uracil for thymine, transcription as distinct from translation, and the functions of messenger, transfer, and ribosomal RNA. Polypeptides are described and peptide bonds mentioned, but not with the NH3-COOH dehydration synthesis. A typical vocab list: “Endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, endocytosis, ribosomes, cellular membrane.

Then, “The synthesis proceeds only in the 5’-3’ sense, which means that the chain that is being copied is read….”

Also, (above) “DNA is formed by the union of five atoms: carbon (C), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P). The DNA molecule can be decomposed into the monomers that form it. There are called nucleotides, each of which contains three parts: a sugar of five carbons, deoxyribose; the phosphate; and a nitrogenous base, either adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), or thymine (T). Two of these bases, adenine and guanine, are structures of two rings and are called purines, while the other two, thymine and cytosine, have only one ring and are called pyrimidines.”

All of this has a notable resemblance to real if basic molecular biology. I’m not sure that it is anything to be embarrassed about.

Biologia 2 has a 31-page section on human reproduction that is purely scientific as distinct from socially propagandistic. There is no indoctrination about homosexual rights or oppression of the transgendered. The coverage is detailed and complete, with cutaway drawings of the genitalia, detailed discussion of meiosis as compared with mitosis, primary meiotic division, secondary meiotic division with prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase nicely laid out; chromatin, centromeres, and centrioles explained, and so on at length. There is an explanation of the menstrual cycle complete with a graph of variations of body temperature; description of embryonic growth; a table of tissues and organs arising from endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm; and explanations of various venereal diseases and how to avoid them. The treatment is neither prurient nor prissy. It is just biological : Here is how the lungs work, here is how the heart works, here is how the reproductive organs work.

Consequences however are presented straightforwardly. For example, there is a photograph of a primary syphilitic sore, which doubtless persuades students that they don’t want any and, in the section of what we would call “substance abuse,” a photo of a badly cirrhotic liver, sectioned. There are no pretty pictures for the sake of having pretty picture. All graphics have a direct bearing on the material being studied.

It may be that all of this is now standard in the eighth-grade in the United States. For all I know, American texts may be more advanced. I can’t make comparisons with things I don’t know about. But these do not seem to me to be bad books. Certainly when I was an eight-grader we didn’t get much of this; when I went on a physiology kick, I had to find a university text.

Still, I have my doubts as to whether the big-city schools in America are greatly ahead of Guadalajara. Detroit recently had, and probably still has, a forty-seven per cent rate of functional illiteracy. Guadalajara doesn’t. If someone were inspired to compare the foregoing material with what students, if so they can be called, are learning in downtown schools in, say, Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York, I would be interested to see the results.

It will be said, correctly, that the cities of America are populated by extensive underclasses of blacks and Hispanics. True enough. However, they are still American kids (now or soon to be) who are learning nothing. Natalia would eat them alive. I have some familiarity with the suburban, mostly white schools of Arlington County, Virginia, just outside of Washington, because my daughters went to them. At least one of these schools served populations living in very pricey neighborhoods.

The girls came home with misspelled handouts from affirmative-action science teachers, and they learned about Harriet Tubman and oppression. Of the sciences they learned very little. I knew bright kids who had trouble with the multiplication tables. Yes, there are schools and schools, some better than others, and advanced-placement and such. I do not suggest that Mexico has a great school system, because it doesn’t. Yet Natalia, in her particular school, is better off than she would be in Washington, heaven knows, or the Virginia suburbs. Ain’t that something?

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Classic, Mexico 
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  1. Jack says:

    Article is spot on. I am a long time Special Ed instructor and spent several years at the middle school level. My wife (born in Mexico) has been telling me for years what this article points out. We have raised 4 children, all except one have spent time in charter schools, for the sake of ideological diversity. I thoroughly commend the author on this piece. I know what the coming generation will lack…and Am realizing that Obama’s suggestion that there is no ‘American Exceptionalism’ will come true. I hope I am wrong…

  2. The education materials shown above are decent (or better than decent). However, Mexican education is not. To state the obvious, Mexican kids simply aren’t absorbing the material given to them.

    Take a look at PISA 2012 ( Mexico is consistently towards the bottom. Note that several quite rich countries are also far down the scale (Qatar and UAE) and several quite poor countries are close to the top (Vietnam and Poland).

    The U.S. does reasonably well. However, if you adjust U.S. scores for America’s demographics, the U.S. is outstanding. See “The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia” (

    For better or worse, a characteristic of Latin American education systems is pro-forma rigor combined with dismal results. Richard Feynman taught in Brazil for a while. His observations on Brazilian education can be found at “Richard Feynman on education in Brazil” ( A few quotes follow.

    “After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn’t know what anything meant. When they heard “light that is reflected from a medium with an index,” they didn’t know that it meant a material such as water. They didn’t know that the “direction of the light” is the direction in which you see something when you’re looking at it, and so on. Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words. ”

    “Finally, I said that I couldn’t see how anyone could be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything. “However,” I said, “I must be wrong. There were two Students in my class who did very well, and one of the physicists I know was educated entirely in Brazil. Thus, it must be possible for some people to work their way through the system, bad as it is.”

    Well, after I gave the talk, the head of the science education department got up and said, “Mr. Feynman has told us some things that are very hard for us to hear, but it appears to be that he really loves science, and is sincere in his criticism. Therefore, I think we should listen to him. I came here knowing we have some sickness in our system of education; what I have learned is that we have a cancer!” – and he sat down.”

    “Then something happened which was totally unexpected for me. One of the students got up and said, “I’m one of the two students whom Mr. Feynman referred to at the end of his talk. I was not educated in Brazil; I was educated in Germany, and I’ve just come to Brazil this year.”

    The other student who had done well in class had a similar thing to say. And the professor I had mentioned got up and said, “I was educated here in Brazil during the war, when, fortunately, all of the professors had left the university, so I learned everything by reading alone. Therefore I was not really educated under the Brazilian system.”

    I didn’t expect that. I knew the system was bad, but 100 percent – it was terrible!”

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  3. artichoke says:

    The texts look like good high school texts. The math is Algebra 2, written in perhaps a more formal (i.e. better, when it comes to math) style than current US texts. The science is at least as good as the required ninth grade biology class. Maybe it’s more like AP biology.

    If the Mexican kids, or the Brazilian kids, can memorize to pass tests on that stuff, then they are geniuses, or the tests involve no thinking. To evaluate this, I would have to see how this material is tested.

    I’ve heard that PISA tests are very simple. Maybe the kids are not being taught the right stimulus-response for that test?

    My hypothesis is that Mexican schools weed out the weak students before eighth grade. It’s not a very inclusive, social justice oriented country. Some of the dropouts become losers in society and have to sneak across the US border to seek work. A few of them fall into crime and do the same thing. They, and their descendants if they propagate families in the US, are the Mexican losers (and Guatemalan, Honduran, etc.) who become our hispanic illegal immigrants.

    The kids in that 8th grade class are not going to be illegal immigrants. That would disgust them. They will be factory managers, engineers, or other professionals in Mexico. If they decide to immigrate to the United States, of course they’ll follow the legal process and they’ll likely receive legal permission.

    The US hispanic immigration problem is not fundamentally that they are illegal. It is that they are unqualified to immigrate. They do not meet our standards that were put in place to filter out undesirable immigrants. (Those standards still exist, since “immigration reform” has so far been rebuffed in Congress) But the right politically correct way to approach it is that it’s illegal so we’ll stop it, and they’re welcome to get in line legally (and be rejected eventually because they don’t meet standards.)

    PISA must not be testing only those sort of 8th graders, but also kids of the same age in lower level schools, trade schools, or maybe not even in school at all.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Peter Schaeffer

    No lot of evidence will deter a fanatic or cultist from his fanatism or cult.
    This activism: blindly pushing for your side (a side you sometimes chose at random).

    More often than not, activism and propaganda rely on their audience’s ignorance of the subject matter.

    It’s White countries’ 8-th grade school material that resemblesa mid-rated university in Latino countries (and 85-90 IQ countries, generally) .The Author’s got it the other way round.

  5. Karma. The US enslaved blacks. Today it has a black problem. It cowardly stole Mexican territory. Today it has an “immigration” problem. The US imposed NAFTA on Mexico, among other things ruining their agricultural base and causing mass migration to cities–and stealing their banks. More immigration. Americans are hopelessly addicted to drugs–their DEA is a joke. More karma.

    American governments make sure that the corrupt Mexican elites never remove their lips from American buttocks. Monkey see monkey do.

    The US is the most predatory nation on earth, and on the whole, its citizens the most insouciant, arrogant and complacent. But they are always right–because they are convinced they are always “good.” The day is fast approaching when the accumulated weight of its karma will destroy the US.

    • Disagree: Colin Wright
  6. DrSeeber says:

    One day in the mid 1980’s I was telling my niece, a year or two graduated from high school, how photographic film was processed into negatives. She had found an interest in photography, (which was a serious hobby of mine in those days) and this was in the days before digital, and she had asked me to explain how it worked. I don’t remember the specific point being made, but I said, “you may remember some of these terms from your high school chemistry classes.” She stopped me and said, “Uncle Gus, we didn’t have chemistry in my high school.” Her h.s. was in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles (I won’t get more specific). You probably could have heard my jaw hitting the floor. On questioning her further, it turned out she’d had almost no hard science required in her h.s. curriculum to graduate; no chemistry, no physics. I seem to recall that she did have a biology class of sorts but they didn’t so much as dissect a field mouse. This is nearly 35 years ago! No wonder the kid and her brother had always seemed rather vacant to me. One can only guess what it’s like now…

    In my h.s., in not quite rural Illinois around 20 years earlier, which was considered a “good” school but certainly nowhere near the best, and less rigorous in some ways than my own parents had experienced, we didn’t graduate without passing grades in at least two years of chemistry, a year of biology, two trimesters of introductory physics, and a trimester of “earth science” (mostly geology & meteorology). Not to mention two years of algebra and a third year of either trigonometry or geometry. Calculus was offered as an elective course for seniors.

  7. Patricus says:

    I studied chemistry and physics in high school and got good grades. After high school I was dismayed to learn that I actually learned next to nothing in high school. Those subjects require more than a perfunctory overview. I read science for about 5,000 hours as an undergraduate. I think I achieved a fairly good grasp of what is known and unknown in the physical sciences but I’m no scientist.

    Assuming Fred is right, and Mexican schools are superior to US schools, why is Mexico so much poorer, and why are there few Mexican contributions to science and engineering. Mysterious. For some reason Fred has nothing but contempt for all aspects of the USA. Any objective person knows Americans excel in almost all fields. We might be outclassed by certain standardized tests but the world’s innovations come from North America and Europe, not Mexico or Vietnam. Hopefully these second and third world nations will step up to the plate in future. Don’t hold you breath.

  8. Nat says:

    Fred, you covered some of the reasons for US non-achievement some time ago

    “… results of a competency test given to applicants for teaching positions in Pinellas County, Florida (which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater), cited in Time, June 16, 1980.

    “To pass this grueling examination, an applicant had to be able to read at the tenth-grade level and do arithmetic at the eighth-grade level.

    “Though they all held B.A.’s, 25 percent of the whites and 79 percent of the blacks failed. Similar statistics exist for other places”

    Again – these are not the students we’re talking about, but the TEACHERS

    American education is a make-work program for the otherwise unemployable

    Walter Williams, Catholics, the Projects, and Schooling for Blacks – Fred On Everything

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