Reflections en route from China - May 2011
Recently I was privileged to meet with Educators and Education officials
from Liannan and Lianshan China. Their commitment to serving all children was evidenced by recent
implementation of Invitational Education in Liannan. The implementation I had observed during school visits
prior to the meeting was impressive for its speed, in less than a year, and its visibility in each school.
Implementation was evident in physical evidence and in comments from leaders, teachers and especially students.
The visit grew out of the amazing and unselfish efforts of Mr Yeung King Fai of the Hong Kong Education
Bureau as a voluntary leader of efforts to take Invitational Education into Guangdong Province (Guangzhou, Foshan, and as
far North as Liannan and Lianshan, and more) of The Peoples Republic of China - a province adjacent to Hong Kong,
where approximately 100 million people live - about 1/3 of the population of the US.
The remarks of a key official are quite important to me for several
reasons. Mrs Chen, who was key in arranging for us to visit, briefly outlined the plans for schools in
Foshan / Guangzhou to assist schools in Liannan / Lianshan. Using Invitational Education as the umbrella,
she described a long term commitment to increase happiness, caring, student learning and achievement in the schools - to develop
human potential to higher levels. The plan was formal, involving contracts, and it was a bit complex and
multi-faceted, and, it involved expense, sacrifice, and participation from the partner schools.
at the time that I could only wish to hear similar plans for American schools. In the US, in my opinion
we have been dominated by simple, short-term, and selfish plans and solutions.
While China has taken formal steps to reduce their rich/poor
gap, America has maintained policies which continually worsen ours. China funds projects to directly assist
struggling schools, trusting in their teachers and principals to directly help each other, while we
more often hear our teachers disparaged and cut out of improvement planning. While China
has carefully planned Kindergarten schools, serving 3, 4, and 5 year olds, America has limited these opportunities.
And, the school year is longer in China.
Of course it is not all one-sided or simple. But it is very
instructive, and makes me even more concerned for our children.
Perhaps more important, and perhaps as a result of the positive policies toward making schools ‘Inviting'
places, Chinese children, and teachers, clearly demonstrate more intrinsic motivation for learning, again, in my opinion.
Ms Chen had also facilitated our plans for the Hong Kong secondary students with us to teach local
primary students, and to visit, work on, and eat a meal at the farms of some of the studends they taught.
The visiting students noticed the difference in student
motivation when they were teaching, remarking later that the students they taught were so eager to learn,
willing to participate and take risks. One group taught seven year olds, who had never had English instruction,
but came to a point of loud, clear English sentences as the lesson progressed. It was not easy, and there
were problems, but both the local students and the visiting teacher/students persevered, and both learned valuable lessons
– perhaps none more important than the internal moral character development of the student-teachers, by making sacrifices
and taking risks of their own, to serve others - a great, memorable, opportunity for moral action.
As they reflected on the experience, they admitted
having doubts that such a long trip, involving so much preparation to teach, was going to be worth it. But
then they talked about how hard life was in Liannan compared to their life. One said the children came
to school without shoes, and were fully ready to learn, where she and her classmates sometimes slept in class, just waiting
for the bell to ring.
China is vast,
in so many ways. There are so many people, for sure, and its present incorporates so much of its past,
in daily life and in occasional observances. It is thought that of the original four civilizations, China
honors its past culture to the highest degree in its daily life. This could be cumbersome, and it adds
to the experience of vastness, but it clearly is a source of strength. We saw student work which caused
them to reflect on the wisdom of ancestors from over 2000 years ago, timely wisdom, considered with great respect, purposefully
‘endowed’ by teachers so as to demand respect.
Most treatments on American History do not start nor dwell long on what came before Columbus, what
was happeningin the US during the time of Confucius, or that the ‘Silk Road’ was happening while we were
'reconstructing' after the Civil War, and we usually do not employ the arts, such as emproidery for all, to encourage
appreciation of the past, patience, perseverence - and generosity.......
Our current 'high stakes accountability
models' have narrowed our curriculum and limited trust in our teachers, and truncated their creativity, and, I fear,
curtailed their intrinsic motivation. This, while scores of schools in China and Hong Kong are working deliberately
to create school cultures forged around respect, trust and caring.....
Growing up, I was given what we called a
'Chinese Finger Puzzle' which illustrated that sometimes being successful involves going in the opposite direction
for a brief time. I will be illustrating that when American teachers and leaders tell me that sadly that we have
no time for the arts or for character education. In reality, in my opinion, we have no time for selfish, short-term,
simplistic, plans. We better move ahead with generous, long term, 'system' improvements, or our ideals might
not receive the international attention they deserve.