So teachers talk. The question is if they are talking about me and my knack for making trouble, in particular. Today, in class, my newspaper-reading teacher had a peculiar topic to start class: “So, I hear that American students don’t like being compared to one another in class. Tao Laoshi (the Academic Director) says I shouldn’t say this student is better than this other student. And Middlebury’s Xu Laoshi says it’s best to use name-blind examples of good work. But I think the Chinese like to actively compare people.” All of sudden, the invincible School in China has decided it needs to review the way it teaches it students? Should they use the Chinese or the American method? Are they mutually exclusive? Or is there even such a thing as an “American” method for teaching?
As we begin to prepare for our mid-terms (which conveniently happen all at the same time), I come up against the famous Chinese method for testing: to “bei.” That is, write an essay that quotes almost directly from the textbook, memorize it, and give a “presentation” where you recite what you’ve memorized. Now, I find this the most puzzling testing method. It’s one thing to write an essay where to eloquently write out your ideas. It’s another to give a presentation where you responding to the environment and audience showing you can speak well, think on your feet. And it’s another to perform a monologue in which you embody the essence of what you’re saying. But writing, memorizing, and reciting only tests your ability to copy the textbook, memorize the textbook, and recite the textbook.
That makes me infinitely sad because it results in a fear of being wrong. Students have no incentive to think for themselves or try new ways of approaching a problem. Now, the School in China, admittedly, has a variance of testing methods (from essays to giving oral reports based on interviews to a standard paper test) depending on the teacher, but when it comes time for the real deal (midterms, finals), the 3000 years Chinese history creep back in the picture ensuring that the students “master” the concepts.
More posts on Chinese education (my one-on-one class topic) to follow!