Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Questions on Education, Business, and Power

I don't think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future. --Wilma Mankiller, first woman elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation

(Thanks, Education for Liberation and NYCore for including this quote in your Plan Book.)

"Ford Motor Company would not have survived the competition had it not been for an emphasis on results. We must view education the same way," the U.S. Secretary of Education declared in 2003.
That's a pretty scary statement.

Who runs our schools? The biggest names:
Is a business mentality the solution to our troubled education system? Should hedge fund managers be running charter schools? What happens when we place test results as the bottom line? 

Little Emperors: Chinese Culture and Education

Psychology Today's piece, Plight of the Little Emperors, focuses on the pressure that students in China are facing today.
The situation for urban young people in today's China, from preschoolers on up, is this: Your entire future hinges on one test, the national college entrance exam—China's magnified version of the SAT. The Chinese call it gao kao, or "tall test," because it looms so large. If students do well, they win spots at China's top universities and an easy route to a middle-class lifestyle. If not, they must confront the kind of tough, blue-collar lives their parents faced. With such high stakes, families dedicate themselves to their child's test prep virtually from infancy. "Many people come home to have dinner and then study until bed," says Liu. "You have to do it to go to the best university and get a good job. You must do this to live."
I haven't been posting lately, mostly because I've been busy teaching at a Chinese summer enrichment program in Brooklyn. It's been an interesting experience. The kids are great. But the program has allowed me to understand a little bit more about Chinese culture--particularly some Chinese notions of education. I marvel at the respect and dedication that the students and families place on education. 

Learning from my students about their culture and journeying with them in my drama class has been a positive experience. But the administration's views of education have been troubling to me. My drama class of 5th and 6th grade boys devised a theatrical piece about a ten-year old immigrant boy, titled Lee's Adventure: China to America. We worked hard with the goal of eventually performing it for students and families on the last day. In the end, it was cut from the final "awards ceremony" because it wasn't viewed as projecting a "quality" or "professional" image--even though the administrator had never stepped into our classroom to view it. Not even once.

So, it didn't surprise as much me when I read this piece on the little girl cut from singing the Chinese national anthem at the Olympics. She had the perfect voice--but didn't portray the right "image." 

In the end, we didn't get to perform Lee's Adventure or even videotape it as we'd hoped. When I sat down with the boys to reflect on our drama class experience, I was surprised. I wanted to give them a chance to be angry at me or at the school. While they were disappointed not to perform, one student said, "You know, it doesn't really matter if we have people watching our play. We know we did a great job for ourselves. I kinda think that's what's important." The other students agreed. That made it worth it.