Monday, October 16, 2017

Little Soldiers

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to AchieveLittle Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am struggling with writing this review because I have so many thoughts about the ideas presented in this book.

First of all, I found the first hand account of the author's experience to be fascinating and well written. The author is first generation American of Chinese descent, educated in Texas public schools, carrying the burden of high academic standards while balancing her own American dream. She subsequently graduates from college, marries a midwesterner, and moves to China for his career opportunities with a small child in tow and faced with the choice of participating in the Chinese education system or entering a kinder pedagogical international approach. They choose the Chinese way and suffer cultural shock which leads her to further delve into educational theories, comparing and contrasting between them.

There is much to be said about the educational system in Shanghai which is why this book was written. It is fascinating and multi-faceted with different results. I read the study performed in 2012 PISA results and came to a conclusion that differed from the author's. That said, I found merit in the conversation she had with the Father of the test.

One sentence in the book undid all the fascination and good I got out of the book which is terribly unfair to the book. I believe it was a manner of opinion but I vehemently disagree with one part of a statement while agreeing wholeheartedly with another part; "The quality and status of American teachers have declined alongside levels of content mastery..."


As a public school guidance Counselor in her 28th year, I believe my experience merits a voice. In fact, I vehemently disagree that the quality of educators that surround me has declined. Only a few weeks ago, I was asked if I noticed any marked differences between students from the beginning of my career to now. The answer to that question was difficult to quantify because the biggest difference between the students occurred with changes of demographics. The elitist, more monied group are more entitled and parents are more invested in their students' grades and ACT or SAT scores. Some parents doing their children's homework and hiring expensive tutors for taking the exams. On the other end of the spectrum, I had immigrants whose parents spoke no English and had 2and 3 jobs, encouraging their children to work hard. That was the population I preferred, frankly. Through grit and hard work, they were improving their lives.

The answer I gave the person who posed this question was completely different, however. I've seen an increase of quality of educators over the years. The status of educators has declined but the quality is exceptional in most cases.

Today's American educators are expected to educate every child that is assigned to them, regardless of disability and laws of inclusion. While the Chinese laggards eventually drop out, we are expected to retain every student. Every student is expected to be successful and the teacher is expected to teach every student at their level. In the same class. The elementary school teacher is expected to be master of all academic content, maintain classroom management, deal with behaviour problems without being punitive, appease hovering parents, and keep up with legislators who are so far removed from the classroom yet feel entitled to tell teachers versed in pedagogical theory how to teach, how they will measure them yet recently allowing truancy court to be abandoned because a certain legislator needed his son to be free of such constrictions to pursue his basketball career.

In secondary schools, the issues are the same except teachers must be highly qualified in their area which may mean they are still teaching physics, astronomy, chemistry and 7th grade science. They are also expected to regularly attend collaboration, professional development, be trained in spotting child abuse and know how to handle it, implement a suicide prevention program, remediate students who have been attending a charter school which has little to no oversight and did not progress in the content while they attended said charter school, and placate parents who are upset because the homework is too hard for their little nuggets.

And these teachers do all these things.

Tangent over. Back to the book.

Neither educational system is perfect and much can be gleaned and emulated from one another. The Chinese are attempting to make changes in a culture that resists change and in a space that can not tolerate much individualism. The American system is at the mercy of legislators who don't have a clue while incredible teachers continue to teach the curriculum without public respect and against the backdrop of more constrictive laws, different student needs with IEP's and 504's and behaviour problems when really, they just want teach because they love teaching. And there are no kickbacks like expensive Coach purses. Although sometimes I get a potted plant at the end of the year or maybe a mug.

I still highly recommend this book. It's an excellent read with good comparisons drawn. The problem arose when I finished the book when I was tired and my obsessiveness can. Not. Sleep. Until I've said my peace.

My apologies to the author for getting hung up on that sentence.

This book was provided to me by publisher in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

No comments: