Author: U.S. & China can learn from each other's educational values

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Lenora Chu is an award-winning American journalist who moved to Shanghai with her family.  She looked forward to enrolling her 3-year old son into a public school there.  They noticed stark differences in instruction right away.

Chu says, "There was an adjustment process you know, it's funny because everything in the classroom in China revolves around the teacher, respect for teacher.  And when a few things that happened that I didn't like my instinct was to just to rush off and confront her."

"And she said, 'you know when you do that in front of kids, they take all those signals and they start to challenge me too, and it makes it hard for me to control my classroom,'" adds Chu.

So some of the cultural differences prompted Chu to research the comparison between American classrooms to Chinese.  She was initially worried that educators were sacrificing creativity for highly organized skills in young children.

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Full Great Day Washington Interview: U.S. and Chinese educators can learn from each other
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"What the Chinese believe is that skills should be imparted early and then independent expression should come a little bit later," says Chu.

She notes that in the U.S. educators tend to have the opposite approach where independent expression is very important and then honing certain skills come later.

However when it comes to work ethic, Chu notes that Chinese classrooms are geared to push the students to hard work, and harder work the next day, "When a child isn't doing well, it's never, 'oh good job you tried anyway', it's more about 'working harder' and the whole family gets involved."

She says it's a focus on the families and the parents taking charge in the education and responsibility at home.  

"And when I talk to American teachers they feel that there's a lot being put on their shoulders," adds Chu.

Chu was asked about a chapter in the book where her son was asked by a stranger if they can sing, and he responded that he will sing if the stranger wants him to sing.  Chu says that it shows the strict relationship for authority that Chinese classrooms instill, "Sometimes that transfers to other parts of your life."

Now 9-years of age, Chu's son comes home and the family makes sure that he has an equal seat at the table in order to balance out the more authoritative classroom experience.

"And that's one of the things that we work on the most.  You don't have to ask for permission for everything.  You're your independent person.  What I worry about is those Chinese kids who go from 'teacher knows best' to 'parent knows best' at home and they're not really get that space to explore and to express themselves," adds Chu.

Chu says Americans are great about getting kids energized to learn.  For instance, classrooms in the U.S. offer electives for students to choose their interests, whereas Chinese classrooms mostly do not.

"And when the Chinese come over to our classrooms and observe, they are interested in learning from us, 'how do we get our kids interested in learning and how do we get them to love a subject' because we do that really, really well," says Chu.

Lenora Chu is the author of "LITTLE SOLDERS: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve".  It is a suggested read by the editors and critics of The New York Times.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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