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Kappan Publishes my interview with Joan Richardson

5 December 2009 11,171 3 Comments

The December issue of Kappan publishes an interview of me with its editor Joan Richardson. And thanks to PDK, the interview is freely available online at:

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  • Haisen said:

    Thank you, Dr. Zhao, for sharing with us your interview and your in-depth analysis of and insights to Chinese education and the future path of US education.

    I have read your interview twice in order to get most out of it not only in terms of what you said but also in terms of what you told between the lines. With respect to the Chinese education 30 years ago, I can find similar echoes from own experience. Maybe, because we’re of similar age, we had the same experience, even though we lived over 2,000 kilometers apart. The educational situation at that time in China was very much like what you said.

    Frankly speaking, you were luckier than me, ’cause you could have classmates of the same grade in the same classroom and your junior and senior high school might have done a lot for you. No doubt that you were an incredibe student during those years.

    When I was at the elementary school, my classmates were composed of three grades with the same teacher in the same classroom. When I went to junior high school, my classmates and I had classes in the morning and gathered grass for farming aninmals, or helped manual workers to dig ditches for some villages, all of which were required by the school. When I went to senior high school, we began to study English as one of the course subjects. I could still remember the first lesson of the thin textbook, which was published by a publisher in Beijing. It was titled “Never Forget the Class Struggle.” Everything in the textbook was a good mirror of the social and political situations during those years. Anyway, I was facinated by this language and did very well in this course. However, very very disappointingly, this course was dicontinued in my second year at high school due to the fact that it was not one of the subjects that would be covered in the National Entrance Examination (Gaokao), which started in 1980. I had to self-study this course, for I wanted to go to college and would very much like to pursue a degree in English language. When it was time for me to choose to attend science or arts classes one year in advance of taking Gaokao in order to fulfill my dream, I asked my teachers what courses I should take in order to study a foreign language major. None of them had an idea about it because I was the first student at school to study English as a major. Also, Gaokao was still new to the teachers. I thought that science courses were more important than arts courses. Then I chose to be a science student in order to have my dream fulfilled. After one semester passed, the principal came to me and told me that I should have been an art student if I wanted to study English as a major in college. I guess you could imagine the results of my Gaokao.

    Thankfully, China has changed, for the better now! Nevertheless, there are a lot of problems and complaints about the Chinese education among academics and public. The stepdown of the former minister of education could be a good sign. I’d like to respond more to Dr. Zhao’s interview later. Thanks for reading!

  • Joan Kerr said:

    Thank you for a thoughtful and insightful discussion of the impact of standards and NCLB on education in the United States. This article should be required reading for every legislator who makes laws impacting public education!

    As an advocate for gifted children, I will also add that our gifted children are being especially shortchanged by NCLB. If the focus is solely on raising test scores to “proficient,” it is far too easy to ignore the academic needs of the children who are already scoring well on standardized tests…but who need challenging and stimulating curriculum and instruction that will allow them to progress at their level. Equity for all means continuous progress for all.

  • Haisen said:

    I agree with Joan. Test scores do not necessarily lead to students’ curiosity and creativeness. In fact, if the United States is trying to catch up with China in terms of having test scores as the sole criterion for evaluating students’ performance, I believe that it will eventually find itself in a deadlock, which means that complaints prevail and criticism fills up the entire society.

    Remember that China is trying to reform its educational system, partly because of the pursuits of test performance have killed students’ creativeness and innovative spirit. Also remember that students’ better performance in doing tests cannot be entirely attributed to formal education or school education at all. Only when you live in China for a long while, may you realize private shools such as evening schools and weekend schools have helped push the wave. Students on weekends are much busier than they are on weekdays. They have no friends to play with at elementary schools, not to mention those in junior and senior high schools.

    Moreover, students’ competition for better academic acchievement in terms of test scores has turned out to be that of their parents. You may wonder why? Let me explain. First of all, parents have to have time to accompany their kids to do their school work at home. They need to know better about their kids’ subjects. If they don’t, they cannot help them effectively. Consequently, their kids will end up being in a disadvantage. Second, their parents need to be able to financially support their kids to go to evening/weekend schools. The tuition is fairly high for the working class. If their kids fail to go to those schools, they learn less than their peers. Eventually, their kids are less competitive. Third, richer parents can afford to put their kids in a school for one-on-one turtoring while less rich parents send their kids to such a school for big class tutoring. All of these parents’ effors are expected make a difference in their kids’ test scores. However, all of such competition makes parents feel mentally tortured and miserable. if you ask a parent about bringing up a kid in China, 99% of the Chinese parents will say to you, “It’s no easy to be a parent and I’m almost crushed.”

    Will these efforts result in improved fulfillment of the educational goal. I think that education in such a vicious circle crucifies interest, curosity, and creativeness. China should change, hopefully for the better and the United States should think before it leaps. Let me conclude by what William Butler Yeats (Poet, 1865-1939) says, “Education is not the filling of a pail [for a better score], but the lighting of a fire.”

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