Executive Perspective                                 Page 48


Opening U.S. Students’ Eyes

to China   



 Daniel Domenech

The People to People Ambassador Program created by President Dwight Eisenhower some 50 years ago, was intended to promote world peace through mutual understanding across national boundaries. Today, as the thought of a global citizenry is not such a far-flung idea, the People to People Student Ambassador Program introduces our students to cultures and countries throughout the world.

As a member of the organization’s advisory board, I had the recent opportunity to travel to China and witness firsthand the impact this program has on our adolescents.

The Common Core State Standards are attempting to elevate the instruction taking place in our schools from the lower cognitive processes to the higher ones. Infusing application, analysis and evaluation into lesson plans will not be easy to do after years of class activities focused on recognition and recall. At AASA, we support the implementation of the Common Core Standards, but, recognizing the significant shift in the pedagogy, we are concerned about the timeline for implementation driven by accountability issues rather than by doing it right.

Rich Experiences
The People to People curriculum highlights experiential learning followed by reflection and analysis. All of us learned about China in school. We read about it, were taught lessons, and perhaps even did some research and essay writing. However, being in China, walking through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, travelling along the Great Wall and visiting with a family in a Hutong (an old neighborhood in Beijing) provides experiences far richer than any classroom will provide. During a visit to a Hutong, students learned about the powerful values that bind Chinese children to their parents.

The Chinese woman making the presentation kept excusing herself and running over to the adjacent room. After several trips, she confessed that she was taking care of her invalid mother. She and her husband must live apart because she has to take care of her mother, and he must care for his aging parents — in another city!

The students again were surprised when they learn that getting a driver’s license in Beijing costs about $10,000 and that to buy a car you have to enter a lottery and have your number picked. To control pollution and limit the number of vehicles on the road, the Chinese government doesn’t just require you to pass a driving test to obtain a license when you turn 16. You have to be rich and lucky.

To control the population explosion, couples are limited in the number of children they may have. If your first child is a boy, you are done. If your first child is a girl, you can have one more. The consequence of this law has been an overpopulation of boys relative to girls. With 50 million more boys than girls, the girls definitely have their pick. Being of good character, attractive, educated and wealthy will certainly give a boy a competitive edge.

And you cannot overlook the role of the parents. They definitely play a part in matchmaking. Phoebe, our 31-year-old travel guide, shared with us her trials and tribulations in trying to find a suitable mate with the unwanted help of her parents.

Comparative Schooling
The advisory board members had the opportunity to visit schools and meet with education officials. Most of those we met have traveled to the United States and are familiar with our schools. They readily admit that China has a nationalized education system with one set of standards and curriculum while lacking the capacity of American educators to “teach outside the lines.”

To compensate for that, the better schools now also offer courses after the regular school day where teacher-developed curricula and lessons are offered to enrich the school experience. Our visiting American students were shocked to learn their Chinese peers willingly stay after school for these extra classes for which they get no credit and then go home and spend an additional four to five hours studying.

The Chinese system is highly competitive. Unlike the United States, not every student can go to high school. You must take a high school entrance exam and score high enough to be admitted. The same is true for college. With both parents and students realizing the value of an education as a way of ensuring a bright future, students work hard to earn access to an education that American students take as an entitlement.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there is nothing like being there. People to People offers students that opportunity.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org


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