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 top player in men’s tennis is yet another anti-vaccine athlete who’d rather create chaos than get a shot.
After a dramatic weeklong fight with the world’s top men’s tennis player, Australia’s immigration authorities wisely decided to revoke Novak Djokovic’s visa a second time because he flouted the country’s COVID-19 policies. Although the Australian authorities and tennis officials aren’t blameless, this is a huge, self-inflicted public-relations crisis for Djokovic that has smeared his legacy.
The former president’s message at his Arizona rally was as clear as it was dishonest: He didn’t lose to Joe Biden in 2020, and he’ll spend the next year working to elect Republicans who agree.
FLORENCE, Ariz.—Tonight, deep in the Arizona desert, thousands of people chanted for Donald Trump. They had braved the wind for hours—some waited the entire day—just to get a glimpse of the defeated former president. And when he finally appeared on stage, as Lee Greenwood played from the loudspeakers, the crowd roared as though Trump were still the commander-in-chief. To many of them, he is.
“I ran twice and we won twice,” Trump told his fans. "This crowd is a massive symbol of what took place, because people are hungry for the truth. They want their country back."
Tonight’s rally was Trump’s first public event since July. On paper, the gathering was meant as his response to the anniversary of January 6, as well as an unofficial kickoff for his efforts to support Republicans in the midterm elections. But the event also served as the soft launch of Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. Although he didn’t say the words, the former president seems poised to run in two years—”Make America Great Again Again … Again,” he joked to the crowd—and tonight, his message was as clear as it was dishonest: He didn’t lose to Joe Biden in 2020, and he’ll spend the next year working to elect Republicans who agree.
Climate change is a tough subject for any film, let alone a satire.
Adam McKay’s disaster satire Don’t Look Up is many things at once: a parable of our distracted society, a primal scream of a warning, and a broad comedy from the writer/director of Anchorman. Such a delicate balance has made the star-studded Netflix film a polarizing movie.
Critics, audiences, and activists have both savaged and praised the movie, and the backlash has highlighted the difficulty of conveying an urgent message with comedy. Has political satire lost its power? Or has reality become so absurd that it’s now beyond parody?
That challenge was evident in the making of Don’t Look Up. As McKay told David Sims, he wrote the story about a planet-killing comet (and our society’s inability to act collectively to stop it) as a climate-change metaphor. But after the script was done, production shut down for the pandemic and he watched the follies of a real-life disaster surpass his fictional one.
Right now, there is a hole in my living room. It was not there last week. We’ve tried to cover it up, but nothing seems to work. Rearranging the furniture somehow only makes the hole grow. The space, which once radiated a hopeful glow, now feels hollow. When I stare at this hole, I begin to feel as if a light has gone out in the world. Actually, not just one, many. And that’s because they have.
I am, of course, talking about my Christmas tree (RIP).
If you live in one of the 94 million homes or apartments that purchased or displayed a tree this holiday season, then maybe you feel the same melancholy that I do now. It’s grim out there. Two weeks ago, my street was a Griswoldian wonderland with twinkling lights silhouetting the eaves of my neighbors’ houses and robust-looking conifers standing proudly in their windows. Now my street is an evergreen graveyard with damp, sickly looking pines discarded by the side of the road, half buried in the driven slush.
Early cringe culture was about empathy and secondhand embarrassment. Today, being “cringe” is a serious infraction.
Take a tweet from the week after the Capitol riot in January 2021: “A Liberal insurrection would have looked very different. We would have escorted the original Broadway cast of Hamilton into the galleries. They would softly sing … as members of the GOP spewed their lies.” This was apparently intended as satire of a certain type of extremely online and cringe-inducing liberal smugness, but it came off as the thing itself and then produced more of the same. “I’ve literally been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack at work for days now,” wrote one woman. “This is EXACTLY what would’ve happened. ALL the theater kids everywhere,” wrote another.
Then the joke became real. Last week, as part of a series of public events marking one year since the January 6 riot, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi introduced a prerecorded performance by the cast of Hamilton, singing “Dear Theodosia.” Pelosi read aloud from the song’s lyrics: “We’ll make it right for you. If we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll pass it on to you; we’ll give the world to you.” There was no need to debate whether this was cringe (which is now an adjective, as well as a noun and verb), because cringe is a you-know-it-when-you-see-it type of thing. And these days, you can seeiteverywhere.
A long descent from a peak in cases could exact a larger toll than even Omicron’s blistering ascent.
Just weeks into its staggering ascent in the United States, Omicron appears to maybe, maybe, be taking its leave of a few big urban centers up and down the East Coast. Documented coronavirus infections seem to be leveling off, even falling, in cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.—a possible preview of what the country’s been waiting on tenterhooks for: the beginning of the end of the Omicron wave.
The pattern fits with whatrecentmodelspredict. National case counts will hit a maximum this month, maybe a touch later. (Some think that the peak is already behind us.) It’s all a bit squishy still, but epidemiologists such as Justin Lessler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are “pretty confident” that the American apex is nigh. Peak could then give way to plunge, as it did in South Africa. It’s tempting, then, to imagine Omicron loosening its vice grip on the United States just as quickly as it latched on. February will be better; March, rosier still. Americans will get something like a Hot Post-Omi Spring.
The new variant seems to be our quickest one yet. That makes it harder to catch with the tests we have.
It certainly might not seem like it given the pandemic mayhem we’ve had, but the original form of SARS-CoV-2 was a bit of a slowpoke. After infiltrating our bodies, the virus would typically brew forabout five or six daysbefore symptoms kicked in. In the many months since that now-defunct version of the virus emerged, new variants have arrived to speed the timeline up. Estimates for this exposure-to-symptom gap, called the incubation period, clocked in at about five days for Alpha and four days for Delta. Now word has it that the newest kid on the pandemic block, Omicron, may have ratcheted it down to as little asthree.
If that number holds, it’s probably bad news. These trimmed-down cook times are thought to play a major part in helping coronavirus variants spread: In all likelihood, the shorter the incubation period, the faster someone becomes contagious—and the quicker an outbreak spreads. A truncated incubation “makes a virus much, much, much harder to control,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me.
The $10 billion mission is working better than anyone could have predicted.
To the world, the new telescope that recently launched to space is one of the most ambitious scientific endeavors in history. It is the next Hubble, designed to observe nearly everything from here to the most distant edges of the cosmos, to the very first galaxies.
To Jane Rigby’s son, it’s “mama’s telescope.”
Rigby, an astrophysicist, used to bring her young son to the NASA center in Maryland to watch the James Webb Space Telescope being assembled. They would stand together on an observation deck overlooking a giant, glass-walled room and watch the technicians, dressed head-to-toe in protective garments to prevent contamination, do their work. Over the years, they saw the observatory’s 18 mirrors—tiles of a lightweight metal called beryllium, coated in brilliant gold—installed, one by one, then the science instruments bolted into place. “It took him a while to figure out that not everybody has a telescope at work,” Rigby told me. “I remember him asking my wife, ‘So where’s your telescope at work?’”
Robert Malone claims to have invented mRNA technology. Why is he trying so hard to undermine its use?
Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on August 23, 2021
Robert Malone—a medical doctor and an infectious-disease researcher—recently suggested that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines might actually make COVID-19 infections worse. He chuckled as he imagined Anthony Fauci announcing that the vaccination campaign was all a big mistake (“Oh darn, I was wrong!”) and would need to be abandoned. When he floated that nightmare scenario during a recent podcast interview with Steve Bannon, both men seemed almost delighted at the prospect of public-health officials and pharmaceutical companies getting their comeuppance. “This is a catastrophe,” Bannon declared, beaming at his guest. “You’re hearing it from an individual who invented the mRNA [vaccine] and has dedicated his life to vaccines. He’s the opposite of an anti-vaxxer.”
When we invented non-fungible tokens, we were trying to protect artists. But tech-world opportunism has struck again.
The only thing we’d wanted to do was ensure that artists could make some money and have control over their work. Back in May 2014, I was paired up with the artist Kevin McCoy at Seven on Seven, an annual event in New York City designed to spark new ideas by connecting technologists and artists. I wasn’t sure which one I was supposed to be; McCoy and his wife, Jennifer, were already renowned for their collaborative digital art, and he was better at coding than I was.
At the time, I was working as a consultant to auction houses and media companies—a role that had me obsessively thinking about the provenance, ownership, distribution, and control of artworks. Seven on Seven was modeled after tech-industry hackathons, in which people stay up all night to create a working prototype that they then show to an audience. This was around the peak of Tumblr culture, when a raucous, wildly inspiring community of millions of artists and fans was sharing images and videos completely devoid of attribution, compensation, or context. As it turned out, some of the McCoys’ works were among those being widely “reblogged” by Tumblr users. And Kevin had been thinking a lot about the potential of the then-nascent blockchain—essentially an indelible ledger of digital transactions—to offer artists a way to support and protect their creations.