26 May 2009 02:08 PM

Shanghai Reflections - 1

by Dr. Rick

Last week I was in Shanghai, China, where I met with countless educators from all over the world.  We met for the quadrennial conference of AdvancEd/CITA, the organization that accredits schools and learning centers internationally.  Before I left for China, I wrote that I’d share some thoughts when I got back.  Here they are.


Of all the observations I made while in this remarkably modern city of nearly 20 million people and skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, two stand out for their heartfelt and repeated occurrences.  The first, which I’ll write about today, had to do with the perceptions my Chinese hosts had of their own schools.  The second, which I’ll write about on Thursday, was more personal, the feelings expressed to me by the young teachers I met in my breakout sessions.


First, how the Chinese view their own schools.


Repeatedly, I heard themes from several of our Chinese presenters – directors, principals, ministers of one government department or another, professors, presidents of organizations – that centered on the necessity of “change.”

  • They talked about their emphasis on standardized tests at the expense of creativity and independent thinking.
  • They stressed how they need to encourage creativity and provide their students with more choices – choices of study, choices of electives, choices of assessments, choices of schools, etc.
  • They said they need to encourage and inspire students more, to recognize the various learning styles to which we’ve accommodated our classrooms, and to retreat from a mindset that seeks “the” answer rather than “many” answers.
  • They want to emulate our methods of encouraging unique talents, our commitment to reach children with special needs, and our embrace of cultural diversity.  International outreach, through student and teacher exchanges, is undergoing a strong interest.

Interesting, isn’t it, how America has been increasingly focused on standardized tests – in some areas to the detriment of non-assessed subjects like the arts, physical education, and health – while China seems to be heading in the opposite direction?  We emulate their standardization.  They emulate our more open approach.  I pray we can meet somewhere in the healthy middle.


This led to lively and honest discussions with my hosts.  I proudly told about the diversity in our schools, the embrace of our special needs students, the gifted and talented programs I’ve seen, and our recognition of the many kinds of learning styles our children have.  But I also ‘fessed up to our own characteristic and intransigent concerns.  I talked about the many challenges we still have, perhaps the most difficult being the distrust of and distaste for learning so many in our country have.  For these folks, learning and, especially, schools definitely are not cool.


I wish I could report to you that we solved all of these open-ended questions, but of course we didn’t.  That we opened the subjects, that we came together to acknowledge our common goals, that we spoke of each other’s strengths and needs is a good and necessary exercise.


The children demand it.




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