Wednesday, January 26, 2011

X-treme Education and Why Johnny Can’t Read and It’s Mean to Ask Him To Because You Know It Makes Him Feel Stressed Before Lacrosse Practice

Seems like everywhere I turn these last few weeks, I come across stories and articles about education in China. It might be the Chinese-inflected X-treme, home-based sport called “Tiger Mom” under discussion in book reviews, opinion pages, tv shows, popular magazines, and everywhere else. Or it might be the recent news that Shanghai was top-of-the charts among schools of 65 countries. In any case, the conversation about education in China or, at the very least, about education filtered through the experiences and sensibilities of the people of the Chinese Diaspora is heating up, not cooling down. The word “Sputnik” keeps coming up.

In my current state of X-treme ignorance, I think of the prominence of such discussions as more of a reflection of American insecurities about our own educational system (and, let me just say, parenting system), rather than any kind of serious examination of different pedagogical models. And we’re not talking about pedagogy of the classroom only; I think we have to admit that the conversation is about contemporary American culture and the way children are raised. It’s about our schools and our teachers. It’s about the inequalities in education in this country.

What the Chinese do have is a certain strong cultural value placed on education itself, a value based in Confucianism. Americans can’t even agree on this anymore. At least that’s what it looks like to me, since as much value seems to be placed on willful ignorance as on intelligent thought in our country. Maybe that’s just me going through a cynical phase? It’s certain that when I say “education,” I am not talking about the same thing many students and their parents are when they use the word.

“Attitudes toward education” was actually one of the themes I teased out of my recent reading of Factory Girls by Leslie Chang. Many of the young women profiled turn to additional education as quickly as they have settled into their jobs in the industries of the Pearl River Special Economic Zone. Most of them see learning English as the way up the economic ladder and the book shows a variety of more of less fantastic schemes that the women end up spending their money on, as in the chapter on “Assembly-Line English” (Ch. 9).

Next up, Singapore schools turn to poetry slams! Xian schools give two thumbs up for French Club! Shanghai schools proclaim “Put aside the math books and take time for football!” (LOL)

Next week’s first meeting of the China seminar will focus on education in China. I’ve got homework to do.


deborah said...

I really like Evan Osnos (he was the speaker at the Chinese Language/Culture conference I have raved about again and again since). You might appreciate this:

doc.rmartin said...

Thanks, Deborah. His name is familiar to me, but I haven't come across this article before. Will have a look.