June 24, 2012

If American Kids Finished Digging a Hole to China

They are all asleep! I thought that Jason was going to take me to the best high school in his city. I was never expecting to find all the students sitting in the dark with their heads down and sleeping at one o’clock in the afternoon. I haven’t had nap-time since first grade, and neither have most Americans, but apparently for these Chinese high school students, it is a normal part of the day, and according to Jason a necessary part.

Nap time after lunch in high school.

Jason’s high school is the most challenging high school in his city. It is like a magnet school in this city, which is a far cry from my average public high school in the countryside. Every student here seems to be on par with Marquis Scholars at Lafayette. Their normal classes are more challenging and strenuous than my overloaded schedule at Lafayette or the pile of AP classes I took in high school. Their school day starts at 7:30 am and ends at 5:30 pm. The seniors also need to come to school on Saturday to study for their exam. Many people think that SATs can make or break college applications, but here the exit exam determines which university you go to. There is no application. There is just one number and one chance.

This once and done outlook is something that exists from a young age here. Tiger Moms are a necessity here. I met a second grader whose mother insisted that he speak English with me to practice. She was taking him to guitar lessons and painting lessons. Jason’s mother told me that they are all pushed so hard, that if that boy were to get a 97% on a test, he would be in the bottom half of his class. Jason and I talked with him a little in English to please his mother, but I was happy when he got to just sit down and play some games.

Jason's high school is on the far left. Sadly, the ferris wheel is in the neighboring park rather than on campus.

Jason’s high school is very progressive. They are trying to learn from the western model. They are shortening the school day and adding more activities to help the students be more well rounded and free thinkers. Music classes and labs supplement the challenging lectures and tests that are the norm here. You can tell that it is a change. His school is over a hundred years old, but some of the instruments in the music classrooms have never been played. The labs are all fresh and clean, and the creativity room waits for minds to fill it. Jason’s school has also begun partnering with Cambridge University to offer A-levels and many other international tests. He welcomes the changes and wishes that school had been more fun for him.

The school styles seem to be moving closer together. American schools push for more standardized tests even though independence and personal drive have fueled American innovation for two hundred years. Chinese schools are now attempting to give children more creativity even though their choices of colleges and jobs have depended on tests for 1400 years. I wonder how schools will be in each country by the time I have children.

Comparing our high schools, I’m not sure which one I would choose to go to. I’m not sure which one I would choose to send my children to. Each school has advantages and disadvantages. Each school was able to produce smart students who are comfortable traveling the world and are open to learning. As Jason and I travel with BOMA, we are learning that our differences in education make us stronger. As this world becomes more global, I think that we need both people who are pushed hard like the Chinese students and people who take more time to relax and explore like Americans.

For now, Jason and I are going to relax and go on a trip back in time to Xi’an to learn a little about ancient Chinese history and traditional Chinese culture.

posted in Helen Hutchens

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  1. Nap time–There’s an idea worth imitating.
    Ah. Becoming “more well rounded and free thinkers”–In a society that regards authorities to be deferred to for the sake of harmonious relations, this is literally “revolutionary.”
    Look deeper into the values held by a society as a whole for the roots of educational philosophies. I don’t see standardized testing in the U. S. as more than a small course change–we already see the pendulum itching to go in a counter direction–but the more China moves toward the Western ways of doing things, I think those changes are potentially much larger.

    says Kevin Stewart
    June 25, 2012 at 5:41 am
  2. I wish you had a chance to visit my school, then you’d be able to see what the real Chinese-style education was like. By comparison, Jason’s school is much more internationalized, much more open to change, not to mention students go to school for MUCH shorter hours 😛 Have a great time in Xi’an! It’s a great place to visit to experience the history of China. And keep the blog posts coming!

    says Max
    June 26, 2012 at 11:24 am
  3. Wow, I learned so much from reading this post. Thanks!

    says Sue Herschlag
    July 9, 2012 at 9:51 am
  4. “Comparing our high schools, I’m not sure which one I would choose to go to. I’m not sure which one I would choose to send my children to. Each school has advantages and disadvantages.”
    I’d think the best option is probably in the middle, in the most literal geographical sense. It may easily be that the best possible education is to be found in Western Europe. It’s a combination of rigorous curriculum, personal freedom, free thought, creativity, encouragement, and opportunities, and by that I mean giving people more than one chance on one exam. I don’t know all of the specifics of how, say, German, or Swiss, or Dutch schools work, but a few things are apparent. First of all, essentially all schools are at the same level, regardless of the wealth of the community where they are located (there may be rare exceptions, but I’d think they are always being actively addresses, and they are not extreme). In addition, at least here in the Netherlands, they produce, for the most part, very well-educated and happy students. And in the most fundamental sense, Western Europe is without doubt the most highly developed region in the world, and the societies achieved their quality of life purely through education, because in every Western European nation, the economy is fundamentally based on high-tech; there’s no oil to pump, gold to mine, and forests to log.

    says Oleksiy Onishchenko
    October 7, 2012 at 3:25 pm

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