Every now and then I encounter a column or blog where I find the comments and rebuttals just as thought provoking as the original column. Thomas Friedman from New York Times published a column on Oct 22 titled, “Chinese schools succeed with relentless focus on basics.” Of course, I was drawn into reading the column to learn what he thought were the “basics.” He states that there is no secret but that the basics are:
- Deep commitment to teacher training
- Peer to peer learning and constant professional development
- Deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning
- Insistence from school’s leadership on the highest standards
- Culture that prizes education and respects teachers
He goes on to say that the difference was made, not because these were new ideas as the elements listed are well-known by US educators, but rather schools in Shanghai were pursuing them systematically and relentlessly. I also need to note the achievements in science, reading, and math skills that Mr. Friedman highlighted were achieved over a decade.
As I read the column, there were several points that I found myself cheering for such as giving teachers time for peer review and constructive feedback, and time to deepen their knowledge of what they’re teaching. Teachers having time and caseloads that allowed for weekly contact with families suggest a deep knowledge of students which can be so critical for student success. Having opportunities to observe classrooms of master teachers and having other teachers watch their class and provide feedback was another point I celebrated. Even with well-known cultural differences I found initially found the article to be encouraging— perhaps because I found statements that echoed my own beliefs. This column also brought to my mind, the research from Finland regarding teacher status and productivity.
And then in my curiosity, I went to review comments and responses the New York Times received to the initial article. Lively debate was occurring! After shifting through the comments, most were geared toward cultural differences- pointing out values and realities from both Chinese and American cultures. Regardless, of the position of the varied authors, the comments were thoughtful and thought provoking.
Overall this reinforces my commitment to work alongside teachers to examine, reflect and learn about how we best engage, teach, and inspire our students. In spite of the fact that all the above elements are not systematically and relentlessly pursued in American education, there are elements to our systems that we need to be mindful about not losing. And— I am thankful to live in a culture and country where lively debate is protected and encouraged!
When you read Thomas Friedman’s article what do you think?
P.S.— How might this article be used as a close read and then have students propose claims, research and write from sources to support their claim?