To be selected class monitor is indeed an honor. The students within each cohort and dorm room form close bonds and work together for the good of the whole. Interesting enough, most of the students I have talked with say there is little collaborative or interactive learning that goes on in the classroom. The totality of the Chinese educationdetailsonline system serves to severely restrict creativity and individuality in students. Just as with the public education system, the college classroom experience involves listening, memorization, and continuous preparation for entrance exams and placements tests. However, the tests college students take are cumulative and will determine the employment they will acquire after graduation, and thus their future quality of life. The competitive nature of the Chinese education system has produced students who, for the most part, are very earnest, obedient, and extremely hardworking, yet who severely lack initiative.
I taught Chinese college students from all grade levels and their abilities and eagerness to learn continually impressed me. Unlike in America, problems with attendance and preparedness never interfered with classroom instruction, which made my teaching experience most enjoyable. And nearly to a person, the students continually exuded a childlike air about them… a certain navet… a sense of innocence to the ways of the world… indeed, they lacked the hardness present in so many of the students I deal with in my American classroom. The students who I worked with were highly motivated to do their best because they almost universally felt compelled to achieve success at any cost; doing so is their duty to not only society, but more importantly to their family. Parents often sacrifice a great deal in the education of their child, who comes to feel deeply obligated to repay them for the education he or she has received. Many of my students said the same thing: “I must get a good job and make much money so I can take care of my parents. They have worked so hard and spent so much money on my education.” The Chinese still place great emphasis on family… the ancient Confucian notion of Parental Piety… and on subservience to the society as a whole… the collectivism so sharply contrary to the individualist worldview of Westerners.
Every once and a while, one is given an epiphany, a moment of insight, if you will, that provides more information than volumes of books ever can. The first of my educational moments of enlightenment came when we visited several classrooms at a middle school. After the last class of the school day, I noticed many of the students were busy cleaning the windows in the classrooms, washing the blackboards, mopping the floors, and even cleaning the bathrooms. I asked the teacher giving us the tour of the school about this and her reply was, “These activities are part of the students’ education.” Schools have no janitorial force; all of the cleanup work is delegated to the students. “If the students are responsible for the condition of the classrooms and the school,” she continued, “they will put much more effort into and value upon their education. This is very much a part of our Socialist tradition… of Chairman Mao’s ideas of loving labor.”
The second insight came during the second month I was at Northeastern University. On a cold Sunday evening in February a sudden snow storm dropped several inches of snow on Shenyang. Very early the next morning, as I left our apartment building and began to make my way to my first class, I noticed students all over the campus-by the thousands-industriously shoveling snow off of the sidewalks and streets and chipping away at the patches of ice that had formed near door stoops and on steps. They had apparently been at their tasks since daybreak. I could only look on, perplexed, not sure of what I was experiencing. When I met my first class, which coincidentally was a cross-cultural communications course, I took several minutes to explain my curiosity about their activities. They were more than happy to explain the mechanics and the purpose of the activity.