The future looks… dysfunctional?

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.

Click for the full article.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.

8 thoughts on “The future looks… dysfunctional?”

  1. when you don’t work for the King, getting ahead gets real important and frequently means fighting to the top… when you do work for the King, getting ahead means going to the bottom…

    i’m thinking your emphasis on classroom vibes is more foreign than the language.


  2. The competition/prestige thing is a big factor, according to our Taiwan friends and our readings, but not the only one.

    In 1956, one of the newspapers ran this notice from the government: “Would the population please stop eating the cats and start eating the rats” – such were the desperate times. Doris F. kept a copy of the notice for decades, until it disintegrated.

    These families typically live three generations together or at least very close, and most people’s grandparents remember those hard times. Today’s parents were born into those times (people marry and have children here later than we do), so even though today’s kids grow up with X-boxes, people in their household remember economic hardship. Hard work itself wouldn’t get you anywhere economically – education was the only shot for getting out of poverty.

    Also, apparently Taiwan’s economy is losing steam; the middle class is shrinking, the lowerclasses are growing, that the rich are getting fewer and richer. I imagine Taiwanese in general don’t assume as much future stability as we usually do.

  3. oh it just stresses me out reading about these kids.. I think the idea of posting grades for all to see would be horrible.. poor things.. I think its great yall are there .. maybe be able to show them the fun in learning..
    amazing read. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Joel and Jessica-I SNOOP into your site most weeks, and read a bit. Sounds like you are very busy and[Joel] your dad tells me some info also. I am proud to say I even know young people with the courage you two display. As always, you are thought of in my mornings walks. Jim

  5. It is so sad to me that these children do not seem to have much of a childhood. I feel that school is too strenuous here in the states with the emphasis on test scores, less recess, and hardly enough time for teachers to fit in all the curriculm. I guess I am thankful that things have not gotten as crazy here in the schools, but I am hurting for those kids that have way more pressure on their shoulders than any kid should.

  6. Yeah, and as we get to know the kid’s and their families better, their behaviour in the classroom starts to make more sense. PEI targets the priviledged families, so these parents are the kind who will pay top dollar for the best, especially concerning their children’s education. Some of these kids are under enormous pressure. One little girl, 7, sadi this week that she has to get 100% on everything, or else she gets spanked/hit (she didn’t know the right word and just made hand-motions). She got 96% lately and was not happy about it. We wondered why she would suddenly turn anxious – like someone pressed a button – whenever she’d get a answer wrong in an activity or game where we were keeping score. We’re going to have a talk with our Chinese boss and our Canadian boss about some specific family situations and our grading. It should be interesting. We’ll blog about it once we know more what’s going on. When things we do in the classroom can potentially have a significant impact on the kids’ homelife, including the way we grade and report, we want to be intentional about how our actions affect these situations.

    Our training is all about being culturally sensitive and anti-ethnocentric, but that doesn’t mean that some ways aren’t better than others (and some ways are just plain wrong).

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