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American Creativity vs. Chinese Skills


Peng Guohui, principal of Jindao Middle School in Guangzhou, China, recently discussed his views on the differences between the Chinese and American education systems with Education Week Staff Writer Sean Cavanagh. Mr. Guohui said he was impressed by American teachers' use of "real life" examples in class—for example, biology teachers' incorporation of plants and simple organisms in science lessons—on a trip to the United States last year. At the same time, he was surprised to see middle-school American students lacking in basic computation skills that their Chinese peers would have mastered years earlier.

"Knowledge acquisition is the basis for creativity," he argues.

What do you think? Do American schools focus too much on problem-solving at the expense of basic, foundational skills? Do Chinese schools focus too much on math and science at the expense of creativity? Is there a happy medium?


First of all, let me say that I feel all of our horizons are broadened through looking at our cultures and educational system with fresh eyes. I welcome this opportunity to communicate with Mr. Peng and to consider his comments on the American educational system. Having an MA in Gifted/Talented Education with ESL endorsement, I am perhaps in a unique position to state what has been my classroom experience teaching Chinese students on the university level who are primarily seeking higher education here in the US. On the positive side, the Chinese students are respectful and studious. I enjoy teaching them very much. However, I have yet to meet a Chinese student who I would consider to be "creative." In fact, Mr. Peng's comment that "Knowledge acquisiton is the basis for creativity" does not completely reflect all the research done on creativity by Wallas, Osborne, Treffinger and others. I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Peng look over the stages of creativity that have been identified to see if these stages would be approached with ease by one educated within the Chinese system. For myself, I find that my Chinese students have difficulty in understanding different forms of research when I teach them how to write a research paper. They feel, for example, that statistics are to be preferred over a face-to-face interview, or a focus group, which are some of the important research methods used in sociology. The Chinese students do not like to work with what has been called the "messiness" of creativity or problem solving. Another difference I see is that they don't naturally engage in what is called "problem finding." In other words, they want to wait for me to take the initiative to discover a topic, determine what the issues are, head them in the direction of organizing their thoughts for them, and then provide them with "their" thesis for "their" research. I feel that coming from a more collectivist mindset offers its advantages and disadvantages. As long is there is "one right answer" (as you are referring to that the 7th grade students couldn't find as well as Chinese 7th graders), the Chinese students shine. Nonetheless, I know that the "one right answer" approach refers to Levels 1-3 of Bloom's Taxonomy. When I want my Chinese students to engage in higher level thinking, or Bloom's Levels 4-6, they are at a complete loss. They much prefer the concrete thinking levels to abstract thinking. I submit to you that true creativity is found at higher levels of abstract thinking, rather than at the lower levels where we all have the same one right answer. Creativity implies a break with the past way of doing something--it is thinking something different than what others think (see Karl Popper for a full discussion). My Chinese students do not want to be creative for those reasons. Mr. Peng, I thank you for coming to our country, and I hope you make a full study of the issues you have raised. Dialog and research is crucial for all of us to engage in transparadigmatic reflection.

In brief summary,I would support the thoughts of Wadeen Aden White from an enrichment and ESL perspective, suggesting that both dialog and research are important to "[engaging] in transparadigmatic reflection."

There is a larger issue, however, over which this article states Peng Guohui expressed surprise - - that of US middle school students "lacking in basic computation skills that their Chinese peers would have mastered years earlier," and that "knowledge acquisition is the basis for creativity." There is little doubt that these statements are true.

This writer would suggest that the continued dialogues and international educational program collaboration give us all the strongest opportunities for increased understanding of the best use of best practices in classrooms, wherever they are geographically.

Real life, project- and problem-based learning require being able to see creative solutions, which are critical for the survival of more than educational systems. The computational skills referred to are no less a critical part of higher level creative and critical thinking than students' abilities to solve real-life issues, but are, in fact, inherent to attempting to do so.

The point-counter-point seems pointless here. Truly, this is where the sum of the parts - - meaning both sides of the elements of teaching and learning discussed here with the questions of "Do American schools focus too much on problem-solving at the expense of basic, foundational skills? Do Chinese schools focus too much on math and science at the expense of creativity?" - - would be greater than the whole if educators combined the best elements of both.

As an educator who has experienced first hand theeducational systems in three countries--Former Soviet Union, Israel, and the United States, I must concur with my Chinese colleague that the basic skills are sorely lacking in our educational system. While creativity is great, it has to be built on a solid foundation, which is--let's face the painful truth--is HARD work. The latter, however, is a scourge to be mentioned, we insist on entertaining the students.
Memorizing tables is as useful as memorizing poetry in so many ways that I would not even venture in further expounding on it.
You can not argue scientific or historic truths without mastering the factual underpinnings, and having a fulcrum from which to argue.

I teach master's candidate teachers in Shanghai in the summers and work with teachers and teacher candidates--and graduate learners in marketing here--during the year. Interestingly enough, I have a growing suspicion that many of them survive their education in both places and that others, far too many, buy the mythology if their respective systems and tend to merely go on to lead productive, stiving lives. I'm coming to believe that we need a basic thinking experience (you can't rethink what hasn't been thunk) about what goes on during the processes of growth and change we call "learning." One thought seems to be emerging, and it echoes John Dewey--it seems that learners need to check their brains at the door when they enter a "school." In fact, I think he may have said just that.
The "noncreative Chinese" have dominated the world of science and technology for millenia, give or take the last couple of centuries, when the western powers put them into an opium-induced slumber. We should rejoice at "China Rising." OUR talent is our response to challenge. It may be a good thing that THAT'S not on the radar scope in many curricula here.

I would like to follow up with a true story, since so many other educators have responded to this thread. Several summers ago, a group of visiting Asian educators showed up at a Gifted Education/Talent Development Conference with briefcases full of articles on creativity. At every break between sessions, they followed up with questions to the professors about how to specifically create an atmosphere of originality in the classroom. They had brought highlighted pages of articles on the subject and were earnestly desiring to do everything possible to take back this skill for creativity to their classrooms. At the end of the two-week conference, the professor in charge privately asked the group from Asia if they wouldn’t mind explaining their interest. The leader of the group said, and I paraphrase, “Our countries in Asia outperform American students on every type of test in school. Our students, for example, are highly skilled and quick in computational mathematics; they do better in every measurement of math ability. Yet, this does not seem to translate into creative productive output. Look at the Nobel prizes by country. Why doesn’t Asia have the most Nobel prizes if standardized tests are the best indicators of all needed skills? Something is missing in our tests. Our countries lag far behind the US, and we cannot say that the awards have been unfairly granted. The goal we have for our students is not high test performance inside the school—our objective is for our adults to engage in field-changing creative productivity after their education is complete. That is what our country needs. We believe this can only happen if we include creativity in the classroom.”

Countries with the Most Nobel Prize Winners
Rank Country Number of Laureates
1 United States 270
2 United Kingdom 101
3 Germany 76
4 France 49
5 Sweden 30
6 Switzerland 22
7 Netherlands 15
8 USSR 14
8 Italy 14
10 Denmark 13
11 Japan 12
12 Austria 11
13 Canada 10
14 Spain 6
14 Australia 6
16 Ireland 5
16 Israel 5
16 Poland 5
16 South Africa 5
16 Argentina 5
21 India 4

Source: nobel.org

My Chinese students who are in their 20’s are very reticent at first in American-style classes. They tell me they have never been asked by a teacher before what their opinion was, for example, or the best way to solve a problem. They have never even had the experience of “brainstorming” for ideas before, much less of having experienced other methods of enhancing creativity. While these Chinese students are doing well in the BA/MA programs in straight mathematics skills classes, such as in most Accounting courses, they tend to flounder in more sophisticated MBA courses with such test questions as “Hypothesize….and support your hypothesis with examples….” This is quite different from the test questions they are used to in China with the math problem laid out for them where they then can find the one right answer. When we brainstorm in my class about the necessary ingredients for success, the Chinese students have told me that they feel they have above average intelligence, a good education, and that they are willing to work hard, but that they feel they “aren’t very creative.” My experience has been that with support and scaffolding, they can learn to be more creative. Hopefully, these examples I have given will not all be interpreted as a lack of appreciation for the contributions of the Chinese culture to humanity. Without respect and authentic appreciation for all cultures, I cannot hope to inspire the sort of “psychological safety” that is necessary to inspire creativity.

About twenty years ago I met a Japanese man at a party in Fullerton, California. He had moved his family to the United States so his sons could get a first-class education. "What?" I replied, shocked. "Why would you think our system is better than yours?" I'll never forget the man's answer. This is what he told me:

"I have two sons. In Japan my older son was an "A" student but my younger son did not show academic talent. He was considered a failure and was treated with disrespect in school. Basically he was 'written off' by his teachers. At the American high school my older son went into the academic track and graduated with honors. My younger son found his niche in the art department. Now my older son is a physician and my younger son is a graphic designer in Beverly Hills. He makes a lot more money than
the doctor."

The man went on to explain that in many Asian countries, a person is "nothing" if he is not a doctor, businessman, engineer or academic, but in the United States each person is recognized as having great potential in some area. American schools take pride in developing the individual talents in each student.

Never underestimate the power of an American education. No one else does.

I used to think Asian schools produced outstanding students. And they produce some. Yet having taught in a junior high in Japan and a college in Korea, I know that I had a limited view of the real success in those countries.

In Asia few students write even paragraphs in their own languages. Rote "learning" and test-taking skills are the primary pedagogy. Unless one attends a private school or has a super ability to self-teach, average students finish college with little interest in reading (is this true of North America? perhaps), no ability to write well in their own language, and a habit of blindly accepting facts and dogma.

North American educators are doing such great work and needn't feel second or third rate.

I know some countries fudge their literacy rates and provide no support for students with learning difficulties. On that score we or Europeans are leading the pack.


I lived an taught in China for 8 years so I am very familiar with the Chinese student and education system. My PhD dissertation research was also collected in China, in Yunnan Province.

In preparation from my dissertation research, I read over some reflections written by Chinese k-12 teachers concerning their professional development in the classroom. I was so impressed with what I had read and expressed that to a Chinese Ministry of Education official that was helping me schedule interviews with teachers. He then made an interesting comment. He said, "yes, China's education system is becoming more like yours, and your education system is becoming more like ours".

He was talking about how No Child Left Behind is encouraging teachers to "teach to the test". He's right! American students may be more creative than Chinese students. However, the policy of each country is pushing them to the opposite poles. China's federally mandated education reform policy is attempting to move China away from the "test", while America's policy, in the name of accountability, is moving teachers closer to the "test".

What does this mean for the educational future of the 2 countries?

This means that China will start winning all the Nobel prizes. The United States will lose most of theirs. Both countries have very talented citizens but until recently the United States fostered individual growth and creativity in the young child, delaying serious study until high school and college. This, of course, is in keeping with what developmental psychologists tell us about how children learn.

All great educators know that keeping the joy of learning alive is the most important thing they can do for their students. That objective is NEVER accomplished with rote learning and test prep. We'd better change our course in a hurry before we see even more young people dropping out of high school.

We can judge the success of a nation's system of education by the accomplishments of the adults, not the ten-year-olds. If you look at the United States from this perspective, we have done very well indeed.

It is nice to hear all this educational discussions on part of Americans.
As everybody knows USA education system is discussable in many respect. So you see even Chines education system is may be better than USA system. USA is 300,000,000 China is 1,300,000,000 . China spends more money on education than many other countries.
I do not agree with Aden White. My Chinees friend at Caltech were very creative students as well as perfect in mathematics.
Life is not black and whites, there many greys.
I am glad to see that Americans look education outside of USA.
As Linda says USA should learn first " how to keep students in high school "
If you cannot keep them in school how can you improve the schools.

We can talk about creativity till the cows come home in China and in the US. And Nobel prizes do not an emotionally intelligent or enlightened culture make. The US is the richest nation in the history of the world, and yet acts like a blind, greedy giant when it comes to government policy; and not a very smart giant when it comes to Education. Global warming is the result of a failed Education system. What is needed is a way to subvert a school culture that cannot by itself change. We must fool the culture into behaving, thinking, and communicating in a new way. Educators must learn to speak the language of creativity, reach the young on a wavelength that young, creative minds are already operating on. Sound like Edutopia? Well, this is merely the message of the last twenty years of brain research that our schools ignore because of the culture of testing. Because, like dogs who learn helplessness, we are have chained ourselves to a playless, unimaginative learning landscape that grows little but disaffection, dysfunction, and sporadic violence. So let’s cut to the chase. If you want to see a picture of classrooms working joyfully in the zone, as a thriving habitat instead of a factory of forced labor, then take a deep dive into the nature of play, a model of applied brain science (just patented in fact) in the Puppetools web site. (Uh, Uh no eyes rolling allowed.) This model is my brain child, a miracle that has survived 35 years of rejection and banishment. It exists because of the brave, open-minded, creativity-inclined teachers who picked up- my tools and started discovering and using the evolutionary pathway into learning that has always been there, but which our factory-minded founding fathers of Education unfortunately were not intelligent enough to apply to our first models. Play is the transformative paradigm for classrooms and cultures that fail the young, To solve the problem of an intractable culture is going to take vision and a strong dose of science. I offer this model as an example of what can happen when you build a vision that starts with children, and grows in the hands of pioneering teachers. Without the Internet the gatekeepers closed to change have had their way. Within the Internet new models are emerging. Educators need to get their ‘news’ from alternative sources the same way the world is, or it will continue to drift and grope for answers. In the case of Play, it is an answer that stares Educators in the face every morning. If I have my way, I will get more teachers to switch on the light.

I must disagree with some of you...

I don't think American schools place an strong emphasis on questioning, problem solving, collaboration and decision-making -- nevertheless in a 21st century context. Building on our ability to innovate, and good use of ICT skills is what will keep the US an education leader. The "skills" part is important everywhere; but not nearly as important as it used to be. At the same time, there are new skills to be learned (and created), such as harnessing the power of collaboration, etc.

Would anyone happen to know what professional development is like for Chinese teachers?

An idea to put out there...

Teaching primarily skills to students requires a very predictable matriculation system in order for teachers to be effective.

My experience as an American teacher is that such system exists in relatively few school settings.

theory: the reason American teachers don't focus on teaching skills is that it is too difficult to manage widely varying skill levels in the same classroom.

In order to get a teacher motivated about teaching skills, they have to have faith in a system (that the teachers assigned to their students before and after their class will do their job and that they will get some sort of credit for bringing students to the next level).

there is little motivation for American teachers to teach to tests. Most american teachers it seems measure themselves about lives they "transform" or students they "inspire" -- more Deweyian concepts.

Any comments about how America's teaching culture affects our approach toward student learning?

I agree with Sandra Lippman that it is really about combining the best of both worlds into one. Creativity or basic skills are all the means to the end, but not the end goals per se. Some Chinese students may not perform well in hypothetical settings or win Nobels, but facing real life challenges and issues, they are more than competent in resolving most of them equipped with their strong skills. The U.S. system may be designed to aim more at producing top of the cream but that approach may have compromised in some degree the big bulk of the rest of the student body. The Chinese education system is definitely not perfect, but it does produce more than enough of quality workforce for the society. And I truly believe that solid basic knowledge/skill focus is one single biggest reason driving the rise of China as a country.

Kathryn Knox: In my opinion, there is personal expressive creativity that is done for oneself to feel better, and to explore and extend limitations. That's good and fun! This creative personal response can happen in art, sports, or music for example. However, there is also the public creativity whose purpose is to extend other's vision and experience or provoke response (hopefully for more than simply reaction), thus it's important to develop the basic skills so as to be more effective in any discovered new view or expression. Picasso became a strong artist in various media so as to understand better his calling, and be able to extend better his own interpretations of color, shape, texture, dimension and outline with respect from other artists.

I have two graduate students from Thailand who feel that students in Asia are taught to listen to the teacher and accept all information without question. To question is disrespectful. When they came to our graduate program, they were totally unprepared to participate in class discussions about the readings they were assigned. They expected the professor to tell them what was important. When they were asked to explain what was important and why they felt that way, they experienced severe culture clash. After several years they have adjusted brilliantly.

Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” No where in this quote does he say that knowledge is unimportant, just that it is not AS important as imagination.
Our kids need to know facts, but when given the choice, I encourage my teachers to err on the side of providing too much time for creativity! Allowing the creative juices to flow encourages investment in a topic. This often leads to a need for information (facts/knowledge) that becomes much more meaningful for the student.
Einstein also said, "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Say for sake of argument that Chinese skills are higher in math etc... The stats seem to imply that average Chinese educational attainment is only about 7 years etc...(world bank, 2000) Can someone provide a link which shows what percent of Chinese students are "skilled" in these subjects? I think there is something to this, but I would like to see the numbers. The usual rip against international evidence is that we test "all" U.S. students. But we need to move beyond the end of that conversation. Thanks.

A. The China and U.S. systems are not converging, but moving past each other to opposite poles. I leave in 10 days to lecture at another five normal universities (my 10th trip) in Chian. One Asian minister of education has said that he is not impressed by their high rank in international tests in science and math since they train their students to take such tests. They do not get Nobel Prizes, and they want them. They therefore want to move away from the "gao kao" or leaving exam that drives all high school teaching. (Chinese teacher journals are loaded with summaries of previous tests and teachers scramble to align their classwork to those tests... assemblyline worker fashion.) Since they have only known memorization and recitation, and since teachers teach as they have been taught, China is trying to get new science teachers trained to ask high level questions, to lead students to posit their own hypotheses and propose experiments and interpret results (currently what we all "inquiry teaching" but a practice of good science teachers here for a long time.) In the past, a Chinese student's only question was "what is the right answer for the test?" They are polite. This politeness has to be overcome to get them to be critical, but it is slowly being achieved.
B. A Chinese classroom will have a MINIMUM of 60 (45 for biology olympics) students and there is still a surplus of capable students, a shortage of teachers and colleges. Thus, the gao kao remains a vital gatekeeper that is seen as a "just" arbiter of who gets into college, by the population. The US has benefited by getting student overflow, and China has let students out easily; the US embassies and consulates have often been bottlenecks. The US does not turn out enough engineers (~90% of US engineering terminal degrees go to foreign-born students) and physics and chemistry likewise rely on them...now primarily Chinese. However, as the living conditions and opportunities in China continue to improve dramatically, we will be less able to attract them here, and our science enterprise is beginning to collapse (see "...Gathering Storm").
C. China has brought 400 million out of poverty in the last two decades and has another 400 million in the countryside to go. Any bright rural child who can pass the gao kao and go to the universities in the developed area will not come back to teach, even with scholarships. (~1998 China began charging parents FULL tuition for senior high school and college.) Thus China is today overbuilding university capacity to provide a surplus of students who will graduate, exceed developed area capacity, and need to move to the countryside for a job. As long as the countryside populace believes that their children have equal access to good schools and good teachers, this will de-fuse the turmoil that often comes with economic disparity. However, while China can build "hope schools" (corporate sponsored buildings), the quality depends on good teachers and they don't have anywhere near enough in the countryside. Thus students with a high school education are teaching in countryside schools. This is not quite the tragedy it is here, since the China K-12 curriculum is more rigorous and content-rich than the US curriculum. They study more math and science, earlier. A Chinese high school graduate has studied more science than a U.S. elementary teacher graduated from US colleges. However, the memorization factor makes some of this knowledge abstract and less effective.
D. I taught at Hong Kong International School 1975-78 when the colony was still under the British. We hired a local hire British teacher for our expanding science courses. She asked what syllabus she needed to follow (British used the Nuffield syllabus at that time)? Panic was apparent when we said there was none. What book did she have to use? More panic. And even more when she found she gave her own final tests. Today, I suspect there would be no panic since we are moving our teachers into assemly-line mode, requiring them to teach the standards and drilling students in memorization for the assessments. The NCLB tests-are-everything mentality is destroying American education.
In China, when I describe the American system where a student's failure is totally blamed on the teacher (we are "held accountable," just substitute blame for that word, it always works), they cannot understand it. I ask Chinese students who is to blame if they do not do well on the gao kao, and the whole class chants back to me in unison "we are!"
E. A China student has a great responsibility. Each has two parents and four grandparents to support some day; social security has not taken off except in limited government jobs. Each student feels this burden and responsibility even if their parents and grandparents lavish resources on them. There are very few "spoiled" kids. Their work ethic and study ethic is tremendous. We know that this diminshes when they come to the US and second and third and fourth generations of our "model minority" slowly drop to lower performance equal to white students. Current Chinese parents remember starvation and call their kids soft and lazy, probably like our Depression Era ancestors did here.
F. China has had the wisdom to put most of their money into education, not military. They have tripled university capacity from 1998-2004, building huge new campuses outside of town for undergraduates and renovating the old walled campus for graduate students. No country in history has made such a major intellectual investment. (They send 50,000 students to U.S. colleges each year; we send 1500 annualy. They have so many in government and industry who have been to the US, China understands us. American does not understand China.)
F. Chinese respect for teachers remains high. Even if I am a guest in a high school teacher's classroom and set with the headmaster and principal in the back row, we ALL rise along with the students when the teacher enters the room...it makes the hair on my neck rise. (The tragedy of NCLB is that it simply has a bad attitude toward teachers and reduces us to assembly line workers blamed for not achieving the impossible.)
G. One stark contrast, and to the Chinese advantage, is that teacher education is not controlled by education schools. Secondary teachers are trained in content departments and receive far more depth of training than do our teachers. They will keep this system.

Only in the U.S. do we actually consider reducing the amount of science to be taught to the next generation, and reduce the science content training of our science teachers. An American teacher has been unique in deciding what to teach, when to teach, and how to teach it. That strength and advantage is now being lost by us, and is being gained slowly by teachers in most developed countries including China. They are going the right direction. We are going the wrong direction. That is not convergence.

Here is a personal story I love to tell. When my older son was five years old, he had a little friend from China. The Chinese child, the son of university professors, was much more advanced than our son. The child could read and write and talked circles around our "baby," who just wanted to ride his Big Wheel in circles. After a while the Chinese child found other playmates. Worried, I tried to apply the academic pressure to my son, but quickly succumbed to his pleas, "Please, Mommy, I just want to play."

Well, my son played through grade school and high school. He played at "making stuff," computers and ham radio. He showed little or no interest in school and got average grades. However, once he started college, everything changed. Our son took to subjects like Differential Equations and physics like a duck to water. He graduated from the University of California and won a full fellowship to Stanford, where he earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Today he designs radios for government jets and rockets. Yes, my son is a rocket scientist!

When I asked him recently why he showed so little interest in school, this is what he told me, "Grade school was about memorizing stuff and that's not what I'm good at." It turns out that my son is good at thinking.

As for me, I'm glad I followed my maternal instincts. I believe in the parental instincts of other Americans, too. They will not put up with this educational stupidity much longer.

I cannot speak to Chinese lessons, except in regards to Lipping Ma's studies that reveal that Chinese elementary teachers have a much stronger hold on the meaning behind the math than US elementary teachers.

As part of my dissertation, I studied Japanese elementary math lessons. Japanese lessons demonstrate a tremendous respect toward student thinking, not the overwhelming bias toward calculation that is discussed here. I would say Japanese math lessons at the elementary level give much time for the student's (and brain's) need to puzzle and think. Students are allowed the time to consider the meaning behind the math. The way the Japanese accomplish this is simple. Less material is covered. Standards are fewer and not so all-encompassing. Textbooks are slim and focused. Each math topic is given greater time so teachers can spend the time helping students to develop understanding as well as skill in calculation. In addition, the teachers themselves have great facility with the math that they are teaching.

Time given toward real math thinking is rather rare in US elementary classrooms and that goes against what I hear folks presenting here. On the whole, math in US elementary rooms leans towards very step-by-step instruction followed by practice and memorization. For the most part, US elementary teachers are not as versed in the meaning behind the math. We also do not have time to teach all that is in the standards and still let students think and ponder. Our standards and textbooks are thick and unwieldy. We give very little time or emphasis to math thinking, and this is where I think we can learn much from our Japanese (and perhaps other Asian) colleagues. I believe the creativity in US instruction that people are discussing here is actually found in abundance in subjects like social studies, reading, and art. Not so much in math.

Bonita's remarks made me think about a lecture I heard many years ago when I was in graduate school. The eminent professor Edgar Dale asked our class to differentiate between "schooling" and "education." He helped us to see that they are not one and the same. A person can have little or no schooling, but possess a fabulous education (Abe Lincoln); whereas someone else can have many years of schooling and a poor education (lots of people). Perhaps we have focused too much on "schooling" in this discussion. Maybe it is in our parenting practices where our nations differ most. Among my immediate family and friends, I know many people who went on to MIT, Stanford and Caltech to study mathematics, engineering and physics. Almost all these people attribute their success to their parents. In fact one female engineer said that ALL the female engineers in her class had engineers or scientists for parents. Many of these people, like my own son, learned math from American teachers (like me) who generally do not have a good grasp of higher mathematics. In fact the first time I ever solved a math puzzle myself was after I married a math professor! I still remember how thrilled I was when I solved it (He had solved it as a ninth grader; I was 28).

So we don't really know why our "dumb" fourth graders grow up to win almost all the Nobel prizes. Maybe it has to do with factors we haven't even considered.

I was born and raised in Shanghai, China. I taught English and traveled to different parts of the country for three years before I became a volunteer ESL teacher with WorldTeach in Ecuador. There I met my husband, who is from upstate NY. Now I'm a masters student and I visit K-6 classrooms in the States to give presentations about China. I consider myself a highly creative person, but that creativity was kind of smothered when I was growing up in China. On the other hand, I am thankful for growing up and studying in a highly competitive environment, which instilled in me the belief in best practices no matter what I do. I think it is also important to note that Chinese students take much more initiative and are much better independent students than their American counterparts. As far as Math is concerned, I was very surprised to see my third-grade niece here in Latham struggling with simple multiplications - something that I had drilled into my brain as a kindergartener.

In my graduate level class at UAlbany, we have four Chinese students, three Koreans and one Japanese - and I am the only one that actually talks in class. I think Asian countries in general encourage the 'sage on stage' pedagogical approach, which results in students' hesitation in voicing opinions and think outside the box.

It is also important to note that with the baby-boomers entering school age, it is not unusual to see 60 -70 students in one classroom, with sometimes 12 classes in one grade. With such a large size, it is increasingly difficult for teachers to work with students one-on-one - not that it has been a traditional approach - and teachers often have to just favor the students with the most academic prospects, since they are the ones that schools build their prestige on. Schools are money-making businesses at the moment in China, because competitions for employment are brutal. When one exam decides which university you go to, or whether or not you can go to a university, which means whether or not you will be able to land a good job in the future, it is hard to imagine Chinese schools placing more focus on creativity but not test-smart practices.

I would much rather my future children go to schools here in the US. But I will personally drill some Chinese standards into them - that's for sure.

I visited Beijing China and was not allowed to enter the public schools. The armed guards at the locked gates of the kindergarten would not let me in. I asked my hosts to translate the song I could hear the young school children singing, but they were hesitant to tell me lyrics that included detrimental references to "imperialist" "capitalist" political governments. The recess yard was much more crowded than the schools where I have taught but I did see some creative "tag" and ball tossing games going on. I also saw young uniformed school children walking alone in a city of 12,000,000 to bus stops!

I could visit the "English" Language Private Schools where the teachers were from a variety of different countries, employed (mainly) to teach English to the wealthy children. Although China was and still is communist, parents are able to purchase educational experiences for their children in a variety of areas such as foreign languages, art, athletics, fashion design and more.

While in Beijing I used some time to read/browse the telephone directory; an excellent ESL resource (the listings are printed on the page in Chinese and English both!) Can you imagine a phone book for 12,000,000 people in one city! Of course everyone does not have telephones and most have cellular telephones! This was an educational experience.

My Chinese daughter-in-law had the opportunity to attend both public and private schools in rural and urban locations. Saturday school was common and students and teachers worked long hours every day. She was one of many average students who tolerated school because she respected the wishes of her parents. She received a mediocre education both in Mainland China and Hong Kong. Her sisters excelled in the same school settings because they liked school and liked being students. She tells stories similar to ones the previous conversations on this topic have revealed; placing her achievement level and that of her peers and siblings on their personal desire to excel or not to excel as students. When I ask her about the dynasties or emperors she says "There were so many I got tired of memorizing them and don't remember. If I really need to know I look it up." She recalls here educational experience just as many U.S. students do: "boring".

Recently my daughter-in-law graduated from a CA State University (Magna Cum Laude). Her large Chinese family came to her graduation where they had the unique experience of witnessing University teachers and students protesting State University Regents recent decisions during the graduation ceremony. It was difficult to explain what was happening in a way that the Chinese visitors could comprehend.

My point of this recollection sharing is that education occurs in the strangest unplanned ways and deep learning happens when curiosity is spontaneously explored. Teachers and learners from diverse cultures in distant locations can have similar positive and negative educational experiences. People from every culture are creative out of neccessity but not always recognized for it.

Thank you to all who have responded to this discussion which I have read with interest. South African students repeatedly rank amongst the lowest achievers in a number of different international tests,like TIMSS, and we are desperately trying to understand why and more importantly how we can change this. Currently "lower order skills" versus "higher order skills" feaure in many of our discussions and some of us believe that the overemphasis of lower order skills in our curriculum is problematic. The problem is for us to tease out what it really is that the educational community means by "lower order" and "higher order" skills. In Science, the area in which I work, I have discovered a varied, but interesting, set of international literature addressing these aspects.

As an English teacher in the 60s and 70s in small town southern Oregon, I taught creative writing. My first chore was to make my students understand that they were no longer writing to please the teacher but to please themselves and any audience which might encounter their writing. Once the "please the teacher" writing was tossed, all kinds of wonderful things started happening, including creative writing.

Sounds like Chinese students would write to please the teacher every time. Too bad.

I have been very interested in the discussion of teaching in the USA and China. I have spent the last five summers teaching English to Chinese students and teachers. There are three observations that seem particularly relevant to me about comparing our system to theirs.
The first was best explained by a bright and energetic student I first met in Nanjing at a summer camp. During the young ladies junior year of high school she was an exchange student in Idaho. Rural Idaho was quite a change from the big city where she lived. When I asked her to tell me about the difference she stated that teaching in China is like “feeding ducks” or one size fits all and everyone gets the same thing the same way. I have asked other teachers and students about this comparison and for the most part they agree.
Second I met young students in Chungshu which is a small city of 2 million near Shanghai five years ago. I had the chance to return last summer and see the same students in the same school. The spirit of the students when they were junior ones or seventh graders was amazing. They were bright, excited and energetic much like the students I teach in Salt Lake City Utah. Five years later the spirit was not there. The excitement in their eyes was gone and they seemed to just be going through the paces. The pressure on these students to do well on standardized tests was so extreme that all they did was study. They could write better in English than many of my English speaking students in the USA but when I would ask them a question they were lost to reply. It made me a little sad because I felt strongly about these students and still do.
The third observation is of another student who is now in a university in Nanjing. I first met her five years ago in a summer camp when she was 16. She told my wife and I last summer that she seriously thought of killing herself because her parents were ashamed that she had not gained admittance to a prestigious school because of low test scores. This young lady has a lovely personality, is smart and is quite lovely. In the USA she would be on top of the world. She has finally come to have more self confidence and sees a good future but that took some doing on her part.
The Chinese have used a system of testing to choose candidates for important positions since the time of K’ung Ch’iu (Confucius). I think I prefer our system of productivity to high test scores to fill important jobs.

i have been real instrited in the thing that we have been talkin bout in socal studies and we just started on a project that has 2 do with china and japan like the japanese feudalish and things like that and i cant find nothing bout that! can u help me please send me some info on myspace and put in [email protected] and u can find me i have 2 make me 1 cause my cuz erassed mine but u can send me the info on my momz she shaid that u can!

I taught in China for a year, and discovered that Chinese students possess a strong desire to understand cultures other than their own; unlike American students. Most Chinese children master more 3 languages by time they are 12 years old. Their ideals about global learning are far more advanced than their American counterparts. Mathematically, they supersede all levels and their English dialet and structure makes U.S. students look like aliens. I was astounded by the number of students who are capable of developing business solutions and want to start a business prior to graduating High School. Their social skills are major league, for they do not reject other cultures as our student in America have been taught to fear anyone that is unlike themselves. Therefore, I believe that the schoos and families in America could stand to reverse some of the cycles of so-called improvement and spend more time observing the cultures deemed primitive to the U.S. system.

Here is some of my input on this discussion.
First, I have to say that I am only familiar with how the Asian education system operates from my family and overseas friends so I may not have had an actual "hands on" experience working with it but I am aware at how they work.
It would be quite hard to compare both the Chinese and American education systems because they work under different philosophies. However, I can say that I've learn far more from my 4 years at a Liberal arts college than all my years in the K-12 schools in the U.S.
While the Chinese schools excel at learning the basics, which in my opinion is more important than all the other extracurricular activities the public schools offer, the best thing about American schools is that they offer choices.
One can choose what path they want and if it is not for them, they can make it up at the undergraduate college level. About 80% of my required college courses could have been taught back when I was in high school. Even though the A.P. and I.B. programs would have taken care most of the required courses, which would have save two-three years, one can stil experiment in college with various subjects, unless there was a clear goal in mind.
I personally wouldn't recommend it, but it happens quite a lot.

In terms of creativity, I don't think anyone can really judge students using this criteria. For one thing, how do you judge creativity?
Ideas that are derived from pure imagination or improvements upon exising ones? How about being able to step outside the box in any way or being stuck in one corner and trying to find out all the ways out?
To be truly creative, one has to be non-conformist in some way.
A solid foundation, problems solving skills and "real life" situations together are essential to a good education, but creativity is different in that all people, regardless of education, are capable of.
Even though the American schools offers many great choices, whether its types of schools, activities, etc. I do find many people having a hard time dealing with those who think or behave a little different then themselves. Although the fear is understandable, it is quite hard to foster any type of creative thinking in an environment that does not welcome non-comformists.
Even if the teachers allow it, the students may not, and vice versa.

At my liberal arts college, although many faculty members promote students to think differently and creative per se, but thats only if your opinions fit a certain catergory, a certain stereotype, a certain group. If not, then forget it. Life is not always black and white, I still wonder how could those professors with more life experiences than us still not understand that basic truth.

In regard to the topic, I think what matters is what the purpose of education is to the student. If it is for the practical reason of career interests than a basic foundation, problem solving skills and real life situations are all important.
Creativity is something too personal for any system to handle. Some students may require hard challenges or a bad environment to encourage that spark, while some may need a place that is more free and relaxed. In most cases, it requires one to step outside the comfort zone, to have the courage to be different from others whether you're with Chinese or Americans.

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