Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Education in America and China

Today it was announced that Shanghai students were the best in the world in all categories. America, which didn't do well at all, was second to last in math. The following article talks about just why we are where we are:

I once had a class of juniors and seniors in college to whom I gave a writing assignment. I had to change the assignment because no one in the class could do a percentage.
To enter college in China you have to know differential calculus.
Some mothers in the U.S. say, “My son just can’t do math.”
In China, any woman who said that would be experiencing Mei Mianzi, a loss of face.
A Sociology Professor said; let’s face it, “Our kids just don’t have the minds for math.”
No one would remain a Jiao Shou (Professor) in China after that statement. China wants to become the largest economy in the world, and you can’t do that with students who graduate from college without knowing basic algebra.
The writing examination for graduation from the college was judged “holistically”. The man who told me this, an English professor, said that maybe it was important to people like me, a guy who taught journalism, to make sure punctuation and sentence structure were correct. He said in other disciplines it is enough to figure out what the student is trying to say.  He was one of the professors who graded the exit examination.
In China there are nationwide examinations to see which students are admitted into which college. The examinations are fierce with only a few gaining admission to Beida (Peking University) or Tsinghua, the Cal Tech of China. But Chinese students have been taking tests every week in many subjects, so those competing understand what they’re up against.

America has some colleges where a substantial amount of the student body are special admissions. One of these students in the 1990s once wondered why I kept saying 20th Century when the years started with 19--. She didn’t trust me about this issue, so she went to other professors who broke the news to her we lived in the 20th Century. I would tell other professors about these experiences and they’d give me a look like “so?” Clearly none of them had read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or believed they had any responsibility for the students that were under their charge. Mayor Bloomberg has tried for over three years to get rid of bad teachers in the New York City school system. The teachers union has made sure he only got rid of six.
I’ve known Chinese who have friends in America who dislike the place and don’t want to be studying their field because they have no interest in it. But because their parents would be shamed by their returning without a degree, they stay and finish that degree.
To those Americans who now seize on the last paragraphs and say America is better because Americans don’t have parents who would be that clueless, I close with an experience from one of my classes.
I was urging my students to read The World is Flat. A student said to me, “Dr. Turner we play football and basketball, Chinese put math books in their baby’s cribs.” That’s a true story, like all the rest on this page. I wonder why everyone thinks China looks like the future?

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