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.
Inequality has seemingly caused many American parents to jettison friendships and activities in order to invest more resources in their kids.
Over the past few decades, American parents have been pressured into making a costly wager: If they sacrifice their hobbies, interests, and friendships to devote as much time and as many resources as possible to parenting, they might be able to launch their children into a stable adulthood. While this gamble sometimes pays off, parents who give themselves over to this intensive form of child-rearing may find themselves at a loss when their children are grown and don’t need them as much.
Prior generations didn’t need to be as preoccupied with their children’s well-being or future. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, in the 1960s, my brothers and I were as luxuriously removed from our parents’ minds as they were from ours. It was the gilded age of childhood freedom. My brothers and I consumed hours of television and ate staggering amounts of sugar—for breakfast. We vanished each summer morning, biked back for lunch, and then disappeared again ’til dusk. My parents also had a life. My mother played mah-jongg weekly with “the girls” and went out every weekend with my father without calling it “date night.” My dad played squash on weekends at the downtown YMCA and didn’t seem to worry about whether my brothers and I felt neglected.
For weeks, Americans looked on as other countries grappled with case reports of rare, sometimes fatal blood abnormalities among those who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. That vaccine has not yet been authorized by the FDA, so restrictions on its use throughout Europe did not get that much attention in the United States. But Americans experienced a rude awakening this week when public-health officials called for a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, after a few cases of the same, unusual blood-clotting syndrome turned up among the millions of people in the country who have received it.
The world is now engaged in a vaccination program unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes, and with it, unprecedented scrutiny of ultra-rare but dangerous side effects. An estimated 852 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across 154 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg. Last week, the European Medicines Agency, which regulates medicines in the European Union, concluded that the unusual clotting events were indeed a side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine; by that point, more than 220 cases of dangerous blood abnormalities had been identified. Only half a dozen cases have been documented so far among Americans vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and a causal link has not yet been established. But the latest news suggests that the scope of this problem might be changing.
Beth Van Duyne was at the center of a controversy over Sharia law. Now she represents a congressional district Biden won.
In 2015, in the Dallas suburb of Irving, the fates of two very different Texans collided.
One was 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a precocious kid in a NASA T-shirt who had built a clock out of spare parts and brought it to school in a pencil case. His English teacher decided it might be a bomb, and the school called the police, who arrested Mohamed for bringing in a “hoax bomb.” Because Mohamed’s family was part of Irving’s large Muslim minority, many liberals saw this as a baseless case of Islamophobia.
The other Texan was Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, a blond 44-year-old with Disney-princess bone structure. She defended Mohamed’s arrest on Facebook, then went on The Glenn Beck Program to repeat the “hoax bomb” lie and complain that the child hadn’t given police enough information. “We’ve heard more from the media than the child ever released to the police when we were asking him questions,” she said calmly.
Concerns about blood clots with Johnson & Johnson underscore just how lucky Americans are to have the Pfizer and Moderna shots.
A year ago, when the United States decided to go big on vaccines, it bet on nearly every horse, investing in a spectrum of technologies. The safest bets, in a way, repurposed the technology behind existing vaccines, such as protein-based ones for tetanus or hepatitis B. The medium bets were on vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which use adenovirus vectors, a technology that had been tested before but not deployed on a large scale. The long shots were based on the use of mRNA, the newest and most unproven technology.
The protein-based vaccines have moved too slowly to matter so far. J&J’s and AstraZeneca’s vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19—but a small number of recipients have developed a rare type of blood clot that appears to be linked to the adenovirus technology and may ultimately limit those shots’ use. Meanwhile, with more than 180 million doses administered in the U.S, the mRNA vaccines have proved astonishingly effective and extremely safe. The unusual blood clots have not appeared with Pfizer’s or Moderna’s mRNA technology. A year later, the risky bet definitely looks like a good one.
Even a niche subculture built around magical cartoon horses is reckoning with racism.
Updated at 7:42 p.m. ET on June 23, 2020.
My Little Pony fans have had a Nazi problem for a long time.
That sounds just as strange no matter how many times you say it. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a cartoon television show about friendship, compassion, and a group of magical horses with names such as Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy who live in a fantastical land called Equestria. It’s marketed to children. Nevertheless, it has an extremely dedicated adult fandom, which is mostly made up of men, or “bronies,” as they’ve been referred to for nearly a decade. Most of these men are white. Some of these men are vocal white supremacists.
The CDC has finally said what scientists have been screaming for months: The coronavirus is overwhelmingly spread through the air, not via surfaces.
Last week, the CDC acknowledged what many of us have been saying for almost nine months about cleaning surfaces to prevent transmission by touch of the coronavirus: It’s pure hygiene theater.
“Based on available epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors,” the CDC concluded, “surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low.” In other words: You can put away the bleach, cancel your recurring Amazon subscription for disinfectant wipes, and stop punishing every square inch of classroom floor, restaurant table, and train seat with high-tech antimicrobial blasts. COVID-19 is airborne: It spreads through tiny aerosolized droplets that linger in the air in unventilated spaces. Touching stuff just doesn’t carry much risk, and more people should say so, very loudly.
In 1974, John Patterson was abducted by the People’s Liberation Army of Mexico—a group no one had heard of before. The kidnappers wanted $500,000, and insisted that Patterson’s wife deliver the ransom.
Illustrations by Leonardo Santamaria
This article was published online on April 15, 2021.
The Motel El Encanto in Hermosillo, Mexico, served a lavish breakfast that John and Andra Patterson liked to eat on the tiled deck near their suite. The couple would discuss the day ahead over fresh pineapple and pan dulces while their 4-year-old daughter, Julia, watched the gray cat that skulked about the motel’s Spanish arches.
On the morning of March 22, 1974, the Pattersons’ breakfast chatter centered on their search for a permanent home. They were nearing their two-month anniversary of living in Hermosillo, where John was a junior diplomat at the American consulate, and the motel was feeling cramped.
After breakfast, Andra dropped John off at work. Because this was his first posting as a member of the United States Foreign Service, the 31-year-old Patterson had been given an unglamorous job: He was a vice consul responsible for promoting trade between the U.S. and Mexico, which on this particular Friday meant driving out to meet with a group of ranchers who hoped to improve their yield of beef.
Every police killing, like every plane crash, warrants careful review by a federal agency.
Aviation deaths once looked like an intractable problem. Then the federal government began probing every plane crash with an eye toward preventing future loss of life. Our skies got much safer as a result. A similar approach could reduce police killings. A federal agency should investigate every single killing and significant injury caused by American police officers, who have long killed people at higher rates than cops in many other wealthy democracies.
Police killings and protests against them have loomed large in United States politics for at least the past seven years. Right now the nation is focused most closely on the trial of Derek Chauvin, who infamously knelt on George Floyd’s neck, even as new protests erupt in Minneapolis over the killing of Daunte Wright, who was shot to death by a police officer who says she intended to discharge her taser. On Thursday, the city of Chicago released footage of the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.
Just months after leaving office, the former president has all but disappeared.
The president was insistent as he left office: “We’re not going anywhere.” It had been a turbulent end of the presidency—impeachment, appalling pardons, and a lengthy dispute over the outcome of the presidential election—but he knew that he had a devoted following, and he had every intention to remain a force in politics. And not just him: His family was eager to cash in on his electoral success, too. Usually a former president laid low for a while after leaving office. He wasn’t going to do that. He’d remain a political force, and the dominant figure in his party.
But the plan didn’t go well. The president sat at his new home—he had decamped from his longtime home state—guzzling Diet Cokes and calling friends to rage about how unfairly he’d been treated and complain about overzealous prosecutors. “You get tired of listening to it,” one friend confessed.
Why is it so difficult to get a new pair of glasses or contacts in this country? It’s easier pretty much everywhere else.
On a beautiful summer day a few months ago, I walked down to the part of the Connecticut River that separates Vermont from New Hampshire, and rented a kayak. I pushed myself off the dock—and the next thing I remember is being underwater. Somehow, the kayak had capsized as it entered the river. I tried to swim up, toward the light, but found that my own boat blocked my way to safety. Doing my best not to panic, I swam down and away before finally coming up for air a few yards downriver. I clambered onto the dock, relieved to have found safety, but I was disturbed to find that the world was a blur. Could the adrenaline rush have been so strong that it had impaired my vision? No, the answer to the puzzle was far more trivial: I had been wearing glasses—glasses that were now rapidly sinking to the bottom of the Connecticut River.