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Respect for Teachers Is Indispensable for Learning

Countries that are known for educational quality may differ in many ways.  But there is one characteristic that is constant.  It's the respect that is accorded teachers by parents, students and society.  In no country is this more apparent than in China, which is known for its academic results ("Why American Students Need Chinese Schools," The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 9).

I realize that China's performance on PISA is based on students from Shanghai.  One city should not be considered indicative of how the entire country would perform.  Moreover, I acknowledge that the authoritarian form of schooling has its downsides in squelching individuality.  Nevertheless, there are important lessons to be learned. Let me explain.

First, parents always defer to teachers.  They believe that doing so allows teachers to focus on instruction.  As a result, half of Chinese would encourage their own children to become teachers.  Less than one-third of Americans would do so, according to a 2013 study by the Varkey Foundation.  When parents protest rules, they are told that they can always transfer their children to another school.  This could never happen in a traditional public school here.  (Charter schools are another story.)

Second, teachers are not obsessed with the self-esteem of their students.  They believe that effort and perseverance are the keys to learning.  They have no reservations about ranking students.  In the U.S. we believe this practice shreds egos.  Yet we have no problem about self-esteem when it comes to scores and rankings in athletics.  Why does this paradox exist?

Third, parents are expected to be partners in learning.  Parents are required to sign off on homework assignments.  That would be considered discrimination in the U.S. because not all parents have time to monitor homework, even if it is assigned at all.  (Charter schools once again are another story.)

I'm not saying that the Chinese model of education is perfect.  But I think it offers several vital lessons that we should consider.  Writing the entire model off as inapplicable to the U.S. is a big mistake.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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