Much has been written about globalization and the shrinking world. Thomas Friedman declared that “The World is Flat” and made a case for viewing the world in an age of increasing interactive technology and communication as a flattened playing field with emerging players from the Pacific rim and central Asia. Critics have tried to take their pound of flesh out of Friedman’s ideas; however, the reality remains: the world has changed.
I recently made my third trip to China. I traveled there twice in 2006 to deliver seminars on American education to groups of practicing school principals and superintendents. During this trip I attended an international conference on teacher education, delivered a lecture on using Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences to “leapfrog” China into the 21st Century as a first world power (see http://www.leapfroginstitutes.org/what-is-leapfrog/ for details), and participated in a seminar discussing the transition of Chinese higher education to a liberal arts model. It was an invigorating and tiring trip.
My first two trips gave me a realization that China is serious about taking its place in the world as a formidable force. This trip really drove home the concept. I interacted with several Chinese teachers who have a passion for education and students that is sometimes sadly lacking in the US. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those who delights in teacher bashing. I think as a rule American teachers are abused by the media, under paid, definitely under appreciated, and thoroughly disrespected by a large portion of the population. And yet, I long to see the passion and sparkle in the eyes of some teachers that I saw in the Chinese. I met one teacher, Johnson (the Chinese adopt Western names to make it easier for use: another sign of their seriousness of becoming an equal on the playing field. We’ll have this discussion later), who radiated when he discussed teaching and education. He embraced Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach and almost treated it as if it were holy scriptures. In a word, he was passionate!
The Chinese have much to learn. They still have an education system that is teacher centered where the teacher delivers the material and the students repeat back the “right” answer. There is little to no creative and/or critical thinking being taught. They are great “memorizers”, but not great creators. Lest we get too puffed up with our own sense of self worth, the Chinese are not satisfied. They want to be the creators. They want to be the problem solvers. I do not believe that I am too far fetched to say that it would not surprise me if the Chinese find a cure for cancer in my lifetime (I’ll be 51 next week).
The lessons for US education are many. We need to bring our education system into the 21st Century. Critics argue that the system is broke and proponents argue that the system and results (students) are at worst holding their own and at best are leading the pack. As bizarre as it may sound, I think both are right. I think what we do, we do well. The question is, are we doing what we need to be doing? and the answer is a resounding NO!
China is serious about correcting the flaws in its education system, are we?