Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Comparing Early Education

When our children, Margaret and Steven, went to school in Johnson City, I commented on the fact that my early education was so different from theirs. First of all, mine was so formal, the class was large, usually up to forty or fifty students, and there was just no time for gradual steps so that children could adjust and ease into the classroom education. From the first day, students sat and remembered what teachers said and did what they were told to do. On the other hand, when I walked in our children's classrooms, there were only usually less than twenty students scattered around a large room, everyone seemed to be working on their own, individually. Teachers spoke softly to each student separately. And many times, there was another assistant helping another student separately. There were interruptions continuously. 

For our grandchildren, the early education has even more to offer. They have supplies, more options, more support and fewer students in a room. Extra curricula activities are even more plentiful. For example, my granddaughter has piano, ballet, gymnastics, swimming, and Girl Scouts. Home work is relatively minimal. The elementary school is even linked to NASA for direct activities on space.

When our children were at the University School in Johnson City, they were the very few tokens of multiracial students. But now, everywhere in the USA, school is full of students with very different backgrounds. Demographic change has been amazing in the USA. It is usually shown clearly in the early years of elementary schools.

Clearly, discipline was the most important thing in the Chinese classroom. For so many students in a room, the lecturing styles may be the only way as well. So what a teacher knows is the crucial factor to be a good teacher. I remember one time when a male teacher was so mad with the whole class that he had everyone lined up in front of him two or three at a time, so he could use a piece of bamboo branch to spank the backs of both hands of the students. Girl students were crying, boys tried to be brave to hide their pain.

I read quite a number reports, they all say that early education in the U.S. is better than or at least as good as other countries'. But after fourth grade, US education starts to slide down, and by the eighth grade, US education in mathematics and science is quite a bit behind most of the developed countries. So why is this true? Let me make a suggestion. There is a very old saying in China: It takes ten years to plant a tree, it takes one hundred years to establish a person." When this saying was stated close to 2000 years ago, the average life span was less than 60 years. So it may take longer now! So it will take generations to establish a "human being". The U.S. educational philosophy is based on learning while having fun; The Chinese philosophy is based on discipline. Both are right and good, but they should only applied to different times of a person's life. For early education, having fun while learning is enough. As one grows older, most people feel it is no longer fun to learn, and some discipline is necessary and needed. To improve Chinese education, they need to put "some" fun in early education. That is not easy, since there are too many students! For US early education, the idea that you must invest time and effort in pursuing any subject must be provided by school or at home!

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