I did write some daily blogs on word that I thought about posting, but at this point, I don't think anyone really feels like reading 8 days worth of blogs, so I am going to just write in general.
China was quite the experience. We visited 3 schools - one high school in Beijing, one high school in Shanghai, and one preschool/kindergarten in Shanghai. I honestly wish we had spent more time at the schools and less time shopping. My impressions of education there were varied. The high schools were both more traditional. They are very into science and have science labs that would make the teachers at my school drool. I sat in on an English class in Beijing and taught an English class in Shanghai. My understanding of their take on education is that students there are basically receivers of their education, not active participants in it. I believe that most students here see their education as an experience, which they help shape. Students there see their education as something they receive. They sit in their chairs and listen and read and write. They don't talk. They don't do group work. They don't discuss ideas or contribute their thoughts or experiences to their education in any way. When they were studying Marco Polo at the school in Beijing, the theme was basically travel experiences, and I thought for sure at the end that the sentence frames at the end of the lesson (Things like "______ traveled to ______," " _______ was surprised by_______," "_______was impressed by________") would be used for students to discuss their experiences, but they were not. It was just another way for the students to summarize the text that they had read. When I asked some of the students and teachers about this later, I was told, in so many words, that students experiences, thoughts, and feelings do not really matter. Only the text matters. This was both surprising and somewhat saddening to me. If students' today are not generators of ideas, how will we have texts for tomorrow? Did these people completely miss the enlightenment? Apparently so....
When we taught in Shanghai, it seemed that the students had the same impression of education, but we did our best to give them a taste of student-centered collaborative education. We taught about character traits. We got them up and talking about their friends and themselves and Justin Bieber (we used a Justin Bieber song as our text). We had them work in groups. We had them stand up and find peers on the other side of the room to discuss the text and themselves. They were hesitant at first, but it didn't take long to get them giggling and talking about confidence and laziness and success. It was a really good experience.
The preschool in Shanghai was eye opening . I don't know if it was a picture of preschools in China in general, especially because this was a new school that just opened and is run by a principal who interned for several months at my school here in the U.S., but it was interesting to see their completely student-centered developmental approach to education. It appears that they do teach academics as well, but their classrooms were beautiful spaces full of places for students to explore. In the half hour I observed, I watched little boys memorizing the Shanghai subway map on a wall, a little girl counting money while playing cashier at a play store, groups of children spontaneously putting on a show for their teachers and peers, little boys playing hair salon, little girls playing house, a boy pretending to drive a bus getting pulled over (by another little boy playing policeman) and trying to negotiate his way out of a traffic ticket (yes, this actually happened). It was amazing and made me really reconsider my belief in fundamental education for young children, because these kids were really learning a variety of things in a variety of ways and they looked happy and curious and confident. Honestly... this experience may have changed the way I approach the education of my own young children.
Other than visiting schools, we saw a lot of sights. I realized that I don't really like touring with groups, as I would far rather really experience new places than just briefly see everything that they have to offer, and the tour group was pretty much about making us see ten million places (and trying to sell us overpriced silk and pearls and stuff, but that's a whole nother story). Basically, I don't like being rushed on vacation, and much of the time on this trip that is how I felt, but, it was a free trip, and I saw a ton of cool things that I never would have seen otherwise, so I am 100% grateful for the experience.