“To promote Cross-cultural Friendship, increasing understanding about people and their difficult conditions can help. My writing – Reflective Thoughts – these days focus on upgrading Understanding. “

By : Bill W.Kwong – Global Educator and Program Consultant – April 2020

BA: Cornell MA: NYU & Stanford / 35+years teaching experience in N.Y.C. and S.F. / Previous Dir. of Global Initiative – Crystal Springs Uplands Sch. – Hillsborough, Ca. / Conducted educational immersive travel experiences since 1991 – mostly Asia – particularly China / Member – 1990 Institute Board of Directors – Promoting Trust and Understanding between U.S. and China

Reflective Thoughts and Stories: Entry #1

Many decisions from China often puzzle those who look at things through American lenses. I find it helpful to share the comparison elaborated below with my colleagues and students when I try to get them to understand why China does what it does. 

Geographically, U.S. and China have roughly the same landmass.  In terms of population, China has slightly more than 4 times that the U.S. has. In terms of land where you can grow food, U.S. has about 1.5 times that China has. The same landmass has been continuously cultivated for at least 2 to 3 thousand years in China when the land in the U.S. has only been heavily used after the Europeans arrived in the 16th century.

Sustaining a lot more people with a lot less land, particularly land that has been heavily used for a much longer time, requires a different kind of governing.

To bring this home to my friends who teach at independent schools, I ask them to consider the management of China and the U.S. similar to working with students situated in two different classrooms.  First, I invite my friends to think of teaching 72 teenagers in a classroom that is the same size as the one they currently have in an independent school. In this extremely crowded room, the students only have a fraction of the books, usable pens, and pencils. In addition, these overused instruments are generally worn, books come with torn pages, and pencils are broken. Teachers assigned to teach in this room are looking at a class that is far different than what we generally find in an elite independent school. In the more affluent school setting familiar to my friends, each of the 18 students belonging to a class comes to school every day with “new” books, functional equipment, and connection to a vast amount of resources. Two very different conditions indeed.

In the classroom I am accustomed to teaching in my independent school, I encourage free-flow sharing of ideas.  Students are allowed to speak their minds and inject their thoughts into the discussion without raising their hands.  When a student violates a rule, I have time to rationalize with the offender to show my care and to give him the extra dose of motivation to do better. Students feel validated, respected, and encouraged to embrace their individual aims and values.

In the other classroom, to get anything done so the arena can resemble a place of learning, I imagine that establishing and maintaining order would be the key.  Students have to wait for their turns to speak and speaking may be limited to a fixed time on the schedule.  Violations will be severely punished, often publicly so all can learn from the example.  Rule breakers will think twice before daring to disrupt the proceedings again. Individual requests serving the needs of a few do not have a chance to gain recognition when the needs of the mass are deemed supreme. It is very difficult to manage this classroom.  The purpose and the goal often focus on “survival”.  To get anything done, strict adherence to a rigid structure is crucial for its existence.   

This comparison often helps my fellow teachers and others to understand that the American style of government with its emphasis on freedom of speech, individual pursuit of happiness, and democracy are difficult to achieve and not necessarily suitable when it comes to governance in China today.