Time Asia describes the world we witness everyday in, “Asia’s Overscheduled Kids.”
Yet many [parents] also quietly fear the impact of the ferocious pressure imposed on their children in service of these aspirations — how could they not, when tales of emotionally broken prepubescents and student suicides are a media cliché? But however ambivalent they may feel, most parents conclude that the goals are worth the risks. Indeed, the sight of a child being driven to study harder — by a frowning teacher, bullying father or beseeching mother — is a tableau as archetypal to the region as planting rice.
Of the handful of English teachers we know personally from our time in Texas, two have witnessed student suicides in China. Mingdaw (our boss, and the founder of our school) doesn’t hesitate when he says, “I hated cram school my whole life.” The expectations put on these kids are insane – that’s one ethnocentric judgement call I don’t mind claiming. The Time cover story, our local friends, and our readings suggest various reasons for this, from the one-child policy to too-frequently-recurring social instability to Confucius to honour cultures and saving face… Whatever the reasons, much of what this Time article reports is reflected in our students.
What is a 5-year-old (our youngest student) doing at a ‘cram school’ four days a week – after his regular school – learning a foreign language? He can’t even use a pair of scissors yet! I gave the older class a big speech on Friday about how their grades, tests, and homework assignments are private (a new vocab word) and how I will only show them and their parents. Their grades are not each other’s business. It was a novel idea to them – I’m hoping the implications sink into and affect their classroom behaviour and enjoyment. Most of the other cram schools publish the students’ grades and names on big posters in their front windows, ranked from top to bottom. My students have this insatiable need to know how they compare with each other on every test, every worksheet, and even in classroom games. The cutthroat competitve attitude, which included passive-aggressive behaviour, was ruining the classroom vibes.
But we are having a good time in the classroom, for the most part. One of our students called tonight – with her mom coaching her English in the background – to invite us to attend a traditional stage performance tomorrow. That’s a welcome excuse to ignore some homework! I imagine that means more pictures coming soon, too.