The American public is hearing a lot about the values imparted by U.S. education at the moment, from the familiar K-12 travails to disputes at world-leading universities. The Chinese public is at least as familiar with debates about their own schooling system, from whether it can will itself toward “more creativity” to the evolving role of doctrinal guidelines from the central government.
Here is a website that offers a fresh comparative perspective. It’s called, in English and Chinese, “Glenwood & Chao Wai: Side by Side 谷林 & 朝外: 肩并肩.” Glenwood is an elementary school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Chao Wai is an elementary school on the far north side of Beijing, near the 2008 Olympic site. The comparison is carried out by Jocelyn Reckford, an American who is now in high school but who divided her elementary-school years between these two schools. As her father, Joseph Reckford, says in a note to me about the site:
Jocelyn has answered the question all Atlantic readers would be asking if they had thought of it: how is Chinese elementary education different from American? She has pioneered a new variety of documentary, the first website to compare a school in China to one in America.
Jocelyn attended Chao Wai school for grades 1-3, where she was the first (and, to date, still the only) foreign student. [JF note: my children had a similar experience in the late 1980s, as the first-ever foreign students at Utsukushigaoka Shogakko 美しが丘 小学校, the public elementary school in our neighborhood outside Tokyo.] Then for grades 4-5 she attended the Mandarin dual language class at Chapel Hill’s Glenwood school.
Now she describes all aspects of both schools side by side for comparison. You will see that it covers everything from how kids arrive in the morning to how teachers are trained. Americans can use it to learn about Chinese education, and vice versa.
With parental pride allowed for, I agree that this is a valuable and interesting site that can inform education discussions in both countries and elsewhere. Joseph Reckford adds one other point about the value of this comparison:
You cannot really understand a culture without knowing how it educates the children. American reporting on China includes virtually nothing about elementary education. If not for annual stories about the gao kao exams [JF: the high-stakes nationwide university-entrance exams, renowned for their rigor and the stress they create], there would be hardly any education reporting.
Chinese schools are literally behind walls and do not welcome visitors. When teachers and a principal from Chapel Hill’s dual language program visited China a few years ago, they were unable to visit a school. This website is a window through that wall.
Congratulations to Jocelyn Reckford and her team; may their example inspire others.
Two days ago I mentioned an interesting site by a high school student named Jocelyn Reckford, who had spent half of her elementary-school years in a Chinese public school and half in a public school in North Carolina. Her site tries to enumerate the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems as she experienced them.
Now, some response. First from Freddie deBoer of Purdue, who writes about the products of Chinese education as he sees them in the United States. He starts with a link to an item in Forbes, about China’s “stunning” superiority to the United States in a number of measures of academic performance.
This Forbes column makes a point very similar to one I stressed five years ago: that for all the obvious problems of U.S. education, and all the obvious strengths of China’s, these comparative rankings are deeply misleading. They usually take a handful of most elite, highest-performing schools in China (typically in Shanghai) and measure their graduates’ test scores against the whole sprawling expanse of U.S. student performance. DeBoer goes on to say:
As someone who works in a university with a very large Chinese population (around 6000 students) and in the world of assessment of second language skills, I can say that there is a widespread, but often little-discussed, feeling that this [JF: “this”=the test-score mismatch] is not the only way that China's supposed educational advantages are being oversold.
In particular, there's a great deal of discussion about a perceived disconnect between the applications of Chinese undergraduates and their actual abilities when they arrive on campus, particularly when it comes to their English-language ability. There's been some recent reporting on this, for instance here and here.
But it's hard to talk about these things. First, the US college system is now deeply dependent on the sky-high tuition that international students pay; here at Purdue, it's often said that the international students are essentially subsidizing the in-state tuition for Indiana students. Many schools are massively dependent on international student dollars, and Chinese student dollars particularly -- which means we're massively exposed to fluctuations in the Chinese economy.
Second, a lot of the people who are in the best position to identify these problems, people like myself working in linguistics or English or second language writing, are also those who have worked for years to make American colleges more open and accepting towards international students. People from that world are naturally loath to say anything that might be seen as perpetuating stigma.
Regardless of the broader truth, I do think it's worth saying that many people I know are absorbing a deeply incomplete picture of the Chinese education system, particularly when it comes to the international metrics on which China does so well. There are untold millions of Chinese students struggling in rural poverty, who we have a lot of reason to expect would not perform nearly as well as their counterparts in China's urban enclaves, but they are written out of the data in many ways. Any discussion of American schooling in comparison to Chinese has to consider that aspect.
I agree, and have tried to emphasize this point in reports from some of the vast developing-but-still-poor reaches of interior China. I don’t imagine that the students you see in the opening photo are factored into the international comparison. One more response after the jump.
A reader with experience in Taiwan writes to say that the elementary-school site offers ...
… a good overall comparison of two starkly different school systems. The money quote [from the site] was:
“In many cases, the teachers would like to take a lesson from American schools and concentrate more on imagination and resourcefulness. They say it is the parents who want to keep the focus on objective assignments, drills, and tests to prepare students for exams. The dreaded college entrance exam, the gao kao, looms like a storm cloud over the entire school experience.”
Same happened some years ago in Taiwan. Teachers wanted to focus more on student health so tried to increase time spent on PE. The experiment ended when parents forced teachers to stop wasting time on PE, and to get back to preparing for the Gao Kao (Lien Kao in Taiwan).
Any understanding of Chinese culture has to begin with how a "repeat after me" education focussed entirely on objective tests affects communication skills, analytic thinking, teamwork, creativity, imagination and initiative.
China does not have to be Westernized but it does need to be modernized, and that starts with changing the education system. I have no idea how that might be done.
The question isn’t whether it can end well, but how exactly it will end badly.
Of all the flaws in the perplexing “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, the hypocrisy shines through most clearly.
As Donald Trump and his allies grasped at straws to cast doubt on the results of last year’s presidential race, they settled on a few common complaints. They said that the election process was tainted by procedures that had been hastily changed in the lead-up to voting, that it was run by partisan hacks, that outside observers were provided insufficient access to oversee the process, and that the election was corrupted by private money given by philanthropists to boards of elections to help them adapt to the pandemic.
Now, more than six months after the election, the circus in Arizona, ordered by the state Senate, has become the last stand of the denialists. The review has attracted the close attention of Trump himself, who has fired off repeated, blustery statements about the count from his Mar-a-Lago exile. But Arizona is committing all the same sins that Trump’s supporters have been denouncing, using a brazenly partisan process run by apparently unqualified parties, with procedures kept secret and subject to change. Observers are being asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, reporters have been kicked out of the site, and the exercise is being largely funded by interested outside parties—even though the Arizona legislature recently passed a law that prevents local boards from accepting outside funding.
I surprised myself by enjoying this sad movie about old people working seasonal jobs.
Nomadland dares you to watch it. Even pressing the Play button on Hulu is a test of strength; do you have the stones to watch this plotless, dreary semi-documentary about elderly people forced to live in vans—and, yes, perform unspeakable bodily functions within them—and search for seasonal work? Or are you going to be a little baby and watch The Bourne Identity for the kabillionth time?
The much-reviled four-quadrant theory of moviemaking holds that a blockbuster appeals to all four sectors of the audience: young men, young women, somewhat older men, and somewhat older women. Nomadland is a movie that appeals to the four quadrants of the show-business apocalypse: menopausal women, people with life-threatening illnesses, people interested in poverty, and anyone with time on her hands who can’t find the remote.
On a Friday afternoon in early March, I felt an urge I hadn’t experienced in more than a year: I wanted to buy new clothes. Outside clothes. Clothes in which I would be perceived, by others. Clothes to wear to a party. The late-winter sun had started to warm things up a bit, I was a week and a half removed from my first Pfizer shot, and those two facts combined to cause a flare of optimism so intense that I needed to express it in what has historically been my preferred manner of celebration: by buying some stuff on the internet.
The first order of business was remembering where I had bought my outside clothes before everything went to hell—ASOS? Madewell? Nordstrom? As I dug through my brain, past all the recipes and the opinions about lesser Netflix shows that I had accumulated in the past year, I opened browser tabs. I was ready to be sold on the possibilities of the year ahead, and I wanted them to include sweaty crowds and recreational drugs and other people’s hands. I wanted to take as many steps as I possibly could toward the person I might be by July.
How conservative politicians and pundits became fixated on an academic approach
On January 12, Keith Ammon, a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, introduced a bill that would bar schools as well as organizations that have entered into a contract or subcontract with the state from endorsing “divisive concepts.” Specifically, the measure would forbid “race or sex scapegoating,” questioning the value of meritocracy, and suggesting that New Hampshire—or the United States—is “fundamentally racist.”
Ammon’s bill is one of a dozen that Republicans have recently introduced in state legislatures and the United States Congress that contain similar prohibitions. In Arkansas, lawmakers have approved a measure that would ban state contractors from offering training that promotes “division between, resentment of, or social justice for” groups based on race, gender, or political affiliation. The Idaho legislature just passed a bill that would bar institutions of public education from compelling “students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere” to specific beliefs about race, sex, or religion. The Louisiana legislature is weighing a nearly identical measure.
Progressive communities have been home to some of the fiercest battles over COVID-19 policies, and some liberal policy makers have left scientific evidence behind.
Lurking among the jubilant Americans venturing back out to bars and planning their summer-wedding travel is a different group: liberals who aren’t quite ready to let go of pandemic restrictions. For this subset, diligence against COVID-19 remains an expression of political identity—even when that means overestimating the disease’s risks or setting limits far more strict than what public-health guidelines permit. In surveys, Democrats express more worry about the pandemic than Republicans do. People who describe themselves as “very liberal” are distinctly anxious. This spring, after the vaccine rollout had started, a third of very liberal people were “very concerned” about becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, compared with a quarter of both liberals and moderates, according to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina political scientist Marc Hetherington. And 43 percent of very liberal respondents believed that getting the coronavirus would have a “very bad” effect on their life, compared with a third of liberals and moderates.
Feelings about the vaccine are intertwined with feelings about the pandemic.
Updated at 10:07 a.m. ET on May 4, 2021.
Several days ago, the mega-popular podcast host Joe Rogan advised his young listeners to skip the COVID-19 vaccine. “I think you should get vaccinated if you’re vulnerable,” Rogan said. “But if you’re 21 years old, and you say to me, ‘Should I get vaccinated?’ I’ll go, ‘No.’”
Rogan’s comments drew widespread condemnation. But his view is surprisingly common. One in four Americans says they don’t plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and about half of Republicans under 50 say they won’t get a vaccine. This partisan vaccine gap is already playing out in the real world. The average number of daily shots has declined 20 percent in the past two weeks, largely because states with larger Trump vote shares are falling off the pace.
Life, for most of us, ends far too soon—hence the effort by biomedical researchers to find ways to delay the aging process and extend our stay on Earth. But there’s a paradox at the heart of the science of aging: The vast majority of research focuses on fruit flies, nematode worms, and laboratory mice, because they’re easy to work with and lots of genetic tools are available. And yet, a major reason that geneticists chose these species in the first place is because they have short lifespans. In effect, we’ve been learning about longevity from organisms that are the least successful at the game.
Today, a small number of researchers are taking a different approach and studying unusually long-lived creatures—ones that, for whatever evolutionary reasons, have been imbued with lifespans far longer than other creatures they’re closely related to. The hope is that by exploring and understanding the genes and biochemical pathways that impart long life, researchers may ultimately uncover tricks that can extend our own lifespans too.
How 1980s MTV helped my students understand the Cold War
For decades, I have taught courses on nuclear weapons and the Cold War. Conveying what life was like with the everyday fear of immediate destruction, especially to younger students, has become more and more difficult over the years. Students understand, in some general way, that nuclear war was a terrifying possibility. But the “duck and cover” images—black-and-white stock footage of boys with slicked-down hair and girls in saddle shoes all dropping to the floor as if in a clumsy game—are now clichés. The nightmares of my childhood are, to them, just pop-culture kitsch.
In class, I’ve shown students movies from the nuclear age, hoping that Gregory Peck’s stoicism about the death of the world in On the Beach or Charlton Heston’s damnation of all mankind in the final moments of The Planet of the Apes might make them understand some of the smothering fear of living in a world on the edge of instant oblivion. I make them watch The Day After and read Fail-Safe and Warday. To younger people, these films and books now seem like relics from some lost civilization, full of mysterious, apocalyptic texts and angry cinematic gods.
No one knows where the discarded piece of hardware might land, but there's no reason to panic.
There are many unknowns in the field of space exploration. What came before the Big Bang? What is dark matter? Will we ever make contact with another civilization, or are we destined to remain alone, floating along on this tiny, insignificant speck in the universe?
The latest unknown to captivate the space community is something a little less grand: Where is that giant rocket going to land when it falls out of the sky?
The rocket in question belongs to China, and it is currently hurtling through the atmosphere, circling the planet about every 90 minutes, toward what is known as an “uncontrolled reentry” sometime this weekend. The expendable hardware was once part of a larger vehicle, the Long March 5B, which launched last month with the first piece of China’s new space station. Once the payload successfully reached space, the rocket, emptied of fuel, slipped away and became space junk.
Plenty of moms feel something less than unmitigated joy around their grown-up kids. Make sure yours feels that she’s getting as much out of her relationship with you as she gives.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Arthur C. Brooks will discuss the science of happiness live at 11 a.m. ET on May 20. Register for In Pursuit of Happiness here.
“You are … irritating and unbearable, and I consider it most difficult to live with you.” So wrote Johanna Schopenhauer in a 1807 letter to her 19-year-old son Arthur. “No one can tolerate being reproved by you, who also still show so many weaknesses yourself, least of all in your adverse manner, which in oracular tones, proclaims this is so and so, without ever supposing an objection. If you were less like you, you would only be ridiculous, but thus as you are, you are highly annoying.”