The Chinese Lunar New Year is always a big event at The New Century School, a time to reflect on all that has happened during the prior year, connect with family and friends, and eat delicious foods, all to start the new year off in a positive way. This year is Year of The Fire Monkey, and it starts Monday, February 8th. To gear up for this special occasion, TNCS elementary students attended a presentation on China On Friday morning.
Given by a TNCS parent volunteer, the presentation was intended to not only celebrate Chinese culture and customs, but also to invite the elementary attendees to compare and contrast what primary and secondary education looks like in China to their own experiences here as U.S. students. Please excuse generalizations (of both schooling styles), which were made simply for the purposes of the exercise and not to pass judgment on either.
Although at first glance, Chinese and U.S. schools looked pretty similar to the audience, with lots of smiling faces and a happy sort of hubbub going on around campus, the differences became more evident once inside the classroom. Discipline and respect are highly prized in the Chinese classroom, meaning that kids are not permitted to fidget and must sit quietly—on their hands, in point of fact—until called on by the teacher. TNCS students, by contrast, are given the license to sit, stand, or recline where and how they wish at many points during the day so long as they demonstrate that they can handle this freedom and attend to their scholastic pursuits.
Advantages and disadvantages are evident in both approaches. TNCS students get to relax a little as well as not have to constantly fight their very natural instincts to move around, but the Chinese way allows up to 50 students per class to attend to a lesson without potential distractions from surrounding students.
Another point that TNCS students were asked to consider involved what are called “specials” at TNCS and include The Arts and physical education. In China, students are asked to replicate crafts and artwork from a model as well as exercise in perfect unison, and they are held to a very high standard of performance. This can mean that they are not given much opportunity to be creative or exhibit individuality in a given school day, although the skills they master are certainly impressive. U.S. students, by contrast, are frequently encouraged to find their unique identity and then express the heck out of it. However, they may not develop technical mastery of what inspires them at as young an age as do their Chinese counterparts. So, again, one approach might work for some, another for others.
The outcomes of these different approaches are, in some ways, “worlds apart.” While it’s certainly true that Chinese students command a large body of information and demonstrate their capacity for retention at test time, some of their teachers commented on their inability to think for themselves in non-academic environments. Many Western students experience nearly the exact opposite, following their individual paths of inquiry wherever they might lead and employing critical thinking and creative problem-solving to get them down the road. However, the United States ranks far below China (and 20 or so other countries) in measurable scholastic skills like math. This might matter a lot to some, less so to others, but once more the point is in exploring the two styles. Ultimately, it’s probably true that neither educational approach is perfectly ideal across all settings or contexts.
Nevertheless, TNCS students enjoyed teasing out both the differences and the parallels, and it was gratifying to see them imagining themselves in the shoes of a Chinese student. Their observations were insightful and even sometimes incisive. It’s a good bet that many of them would like to visit China for themselves in the near future.
In the meantime, they can content themselves with the video below of the slides presented today in addition to turning their thoughts to the approaching lunar new year, which Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi are sure to help them celebrate with a bang! We hope that this Monkey Year brings you and yours health and happiness!