I just returned from a ten-day trip to China during which I visited eight different schools in seven days. North Cross, like many schools and universities in the United States, has become attractive to Chinese students interested in an American style education. My trip was ostensibly about formalizing our growing relationship with several Chinese education groups, but what I really looked forward to was seeing Chinese schools and speaking with Chinese educators about the issues they see facing Chinese students. Among my many questions was why an American education is so attractive to the Chinese when, in many ways, educators at home were trying to imitate the rigor and demands of the Chinese system.
It seems that many successful Chinese see the American educational system as exemplary because of the freedom of expression and creative thought that can be frequently found in our classrooms. Chinese businessmen recognize that real life questions do not always present two courses of action, an obvious correct response and one equally obvious incorrect response. They realize that an education that teaches students to choose a best response from among several correct courses of action will benefit their children. They are willing to forego some of the academic rigor of Chinese classrooms for the opportunity to have their children become creative and thoughtful. Repeatedly, I saw school mission statements that emphasized creativity, collaboration, and originality, only to speak with principals that reported a struggle in matching these mission statements to actual educational practices. Cultural expectations and parenting practices made it difficult for them to focus on these “softer” goals. As a result, many wealthier parents choose to send their children to the United States for their education or to American educational programs in China in order to get the educational results they value most.
So it appears the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and, with this understanding, we need to be sure to incorporate the best educational practices from around the world while at the same time making sure we do not throw our own unique educational advantage out with the bath water. Mixed metaphors aside, we’d do well to remember that the term “nation at risk” came from a 1983 Department of Education publication concerned with our educational system not producing students able to compete with the threat of a growing Japanese economy. Of course, we all remember that our much-maligned educational system of the late 70’s and early 80’s somehow managed to groom the collective creative genius that produced the digital revolution. While we need to remain aware of our global competitors, I am confident that our educational system has the flexibility required to improve and produce the creative force necessary to remain a world leader for generations to come.
(Published in the January/February 2015 issue of South Roanoke Circle)