Home > Uncategorized > Will the Next Steve Jobs be from China… or will the next Chairman Mao be from the US?

Will the Next Steve Jobs be from China… or will the next Chairman Mao be from the US?

October 24, 2017

An education article in today’s NYTimes article, Will the Next Steve Jobs be from China? by Lenora Chu describes the Chinese government’s efforts to reform their schools, and from my perspective the Chinese definition of “reform” rings truer than the one put forth by neoliberals, business leaders, and profiteers. Ms. Chu describes the current system in China, which focuses almost exclusively on preparing students for a college entry test that roughly 70% of them will fail:

The typical Chinese classroom is generally centered around the teacher, with children sitting in rows, the higher performers at the front of the classroom. The curriculums in the early years focus on math and the Chinese language, with full literacy — defined as the memorization of 3,500 distinct characters — expected in middle school.

In later years, students spend eight hours a day in school, and hours on homework or after-school test prep. (American students generally spend 90 minutes fewer in school each day and tackle eight fewer hours of homework a week than students in Shanghai, for example.)

The system is highly competitive. Of the nine million students who take the national college entrance exam, about two to three million will fail to advance into college. A focus on passing tests can kill a student’s natural interests and prevent opportunities to explore and be creative.

So the current Chinese system appears to be what the current American system aspires to be: teacher-centered (or teacher-proof in some cases), focused on memorization and test preparation, and highly competitive. In the meantime, the Chinese plutocrats are recognizing that their system is flawed. As noted in the final sentence above, “...a focus on passing tests can kill a student’s natural interests and prevent opportunities to explore and be creative”. And the Chinese plutocrats, being forward thinking and extremely competitive, recognize that the future belongs to those who are capable of intellectual exploration and creativity. Consequently, they are overhauling the current model, unilaterally experimenting with some pilot schools outside of Shanghai that are using a different model. Ms. Chu describes her visit to one of these schools:

But the 10-year education reform plan released in 2010 declared that schools must foster a “fine environment for independent thinking.” The government is beginning to allow some schools to dictate up to 20 percent of their curriculum, according to Yang Xiaowei, a professor at East China Normal University. Some principals have chosen to introduce science- and math-based creativity classes or experiential learning projects, while one Shanghai administrator simply lets out school early a day a week to encourage kids to “explore.”

“Students must develop a personality,” Dai Chong, a Beijing schoolteacher, said, uttering a priority unthinkable two decades ago for a nation of rote-learning math fanatics.

As Mr. Dai ushered me through the hallways of Beijing National Day School, I noted practices that seemed more American than Chinese: Rankings were not be posted. Textbooks were left at school instead of toted home for study. Class sizes had been whittled down to a maximum of 25. A mental health club was advertised as a release valve for academic pressure. Choice was also on the menu — students could pick electives such as swimming, rock climbing and Frisbee.

So while our plutocratic reformers are advocating a Common Core, the ranking of schools and students based on test scores, and greater uniformity, the Chinese plutocrats are advocating exploration, the development of personality, and lots of options.

For several years I’ve believed that China and the US are regressing toward a mean, driven by the plutocrats who oversee each country who ultimately have the same goal in mind: economic dominance. Neither governments are what we traditionally define them as: the Chinese are not “communist” and the US is moving further and further away from the pure capitalism of Adam Smith. Instead, are devolving (or evolving) into mirrors of each other: command capitalism overseen by a small group of plutocrats who will ultimately compete against each other for economic dominance in the same way that automobile manufacturers compete against each other for market share. How this will all turn out depends on how one views unbridled Capitalism. If one believes that ultimately the selfishness of mankind will result in some form of regulation of fossil fuels in the name of survival and the avoidance of mutually assured destruction in the name of mutually assured profit, then everything will eventually work out OK even if we don’t have a democracy in the classic send of the word. But if one believes that the competitive nature of capitalism will ultimately require the unending burning of fossil fuels or the need for physical dominance through war and not just economic dominance through age slavery then things could get very bad.

For me the open question is this: can democracy in the US prevail or will our voters acquiesce to the donors who currently control the legislature? In the next few years I think we will find out the answer to that question and, if democracy is to thrive it must begin at the grassroots level. When voters sit out primary elections, local and state political elections, and school board elections they are signaling a willingness to give up on democracy and cede the oversight of their day-to-day lives to the plutocrats the seek dominance in the political sphere the same way they seek dominance in the economic sphere. I, for one, am not certain their political interests mirror those of the general public.


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