Diane Ravitch, a strong critic of the Charter School programme in the US, has buried an educational myth or two in her time. Now, in the New York Review of Books, she has turned her attention to the claims made about Chinese schools and the assertion that US (and, one can add, the UK) should adopt their methods. Information about what they actually do in Chinese schools has been lacking and the many claims made about them have been based on little more than PISA tests.
Diane Ravitch”s article takes the form of a review of a new book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World by Yong Zhao. NYRB reviews are substantial and this one (just over 4000 words) is well worth taking the time over.
China, he writes, is “a perfect incarnation of authoritarian education.” It is no model for the United States:
As traditional routine jobs are offshored and automated, we need more and more globally competent, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial citizens—job creators instead of employment-minded job seekers. To cultivate new talents, we need an education that enhances individual strengths, follows children’s passions, and fosters their social-emotional development. We do not need an authoritarian education that aims to fix children’s deficits according to externally prescribed standards.
If the West is concerned about being overtaken by China, then the best solution is “to avoid becoming China.”
The United States is already ensnared in the testing obsession that has trapped China. It is not too late to escape. Parents and educators across the nation are up in arms about the amount of instructional time now devoted to test preparation and testing. Yong Zhao offers wise counsel. We should break our addiction to standardized testing before we sacrifice the cultural values that have made our nation a home to innovation, creativity, originality, and invention.