The ‘experiment’ whereby Chinese teachers were imported into a British secondary school gained a lot of media attention, led, of course, by the BBC, who set the whole thing up. Of course, ‘experiment’ is not the right word for such a crass exercise. There was nothing scientific about the project whatsoever: no gathering of objective data, no control samples, not even an identifiable research goal beyond creating entertainment.
It wasn’t as if the BBC reporters were pushing progressive methods explicitly, but this article is a classic example of how a deeply ingrained ideology has become so internalised that it doesn’t need to be justified. It is just considered normal, and common sense.
We can see where the article is going very quickly. ‘Lessons were focused on note-taking and repetition’, claims the author. Note the word ‘focused’, as if the note taking and repetition were an end in themselves. This is a classic mistake: to confuse activities with learning. The note taking and repetition were the obvious, immediate and ‘foreign’ aspects of the lessons, which grabbed the observer’s attention. But why were the teachers using note taking and repetition? Could it be because they are proven and simple methods for inculcating knowledge firmly? But that point of view is never heard.
The headteacher of the school where the experiment was held admits that he saw some impressive things on his visit to China, including ‘immaculate behaviour’. Their academic results are, of course, widely recognised. But at the same time he refers to the ‘interminable monotony’ of Chinese education. He has clearly made up his mind about the Chinese system long before the ‘experiment’ begins. He refers to ‘teenage British culture and values’ as clashing with the Chinese approaches, which he calls ‘incarceration’. With someone like this in charge, the whole exercise appears nothing more than a method of showing how nasty and tyrannical the Chinese are, and how nice and tolerant we Brits are in comparison. I do find it hilarious how Western liberals can indulge in dogmatic cultural imperialism under the banner of ‘tolerance’.
Actually, according to any civilised standard of hospitality and good manners, the pupils at the school were being rude and disrespectful to their guests, but instead of reacting with horror and shame, our tolerant headteacher refers to this as their ‘culture and values’, which requires that their views be listened to with ‘respect’.
But what has created these ‘values’, if not an education system which has placed the child at the centre, demanding that their voice be heard, instead of listening to those who are older and wiser? These young people have been taught that it is their opinion that counts, and that it is the teacher’s job to grab their attention, rather than its being their duty to give it. As a result, many of them remain ignorant and arrogant, and it is an ignorance and arrogance which cannot be punctured by crass media exercises like this one. A well taught pupil of progressive methods puts it thus:
‘I’m used to speaking my mind in class, being bold, giving ideas, often working in groups to advance my skills and improve my knowledge.’
A few cracks did appear in the progressive indoctrination of the pupils, though. The headteacher grudgingly admits that some pupils actually began to enjoy note taking and listening to lectures:
‘They liked having to copy “stuff” from the board as they thought this would help them remember it. Some more able pupils also liked the lecture style of the Chinese classroom.’
The implications are clear. They thought copying would help them remember, poor misguided fools. And only ‘more able’ pupils can cope with these methods. Of course, the less able cannot be expected to listen to explanations from the front. They must be given differentiated worksheets to make sure they stay well behind everyone else.
Meanwhile, the only pupil interviewed in the article calls the teaching methods nothing but ‘dull lectures’ which left her ‘very tired and very bored’. The only bits she liked were the fan dancing and the cookery classes. Well, perhaps she is a kinaesthetic learner, and those mean, nasty Chinese teachers didn’t take that into account. Or perhaps they just expected her to listen and work hard? Not something she is accustomed to, evidently. As a ‘normal’ British teenager, she is interested in ‘my sleep and my freedom’.
At least the article ends with a Chinese view, and there is much food for thought here. Evidently lectures were not the exclusive method used, whatever the headteacher claims:
‘When I first introduced Pythagoras’s theorem, I decided to let the students find the proposition, prove and apply the theorem. That process is an important feature of maths teaching in China.
But a lot of students said they found it unnecessary to prove Pythagoras’s theorem – knowing how to apply it was enough.’
When they are not lecturing, the Chinese teachers are asking the pupils to do something demanding, which requires thought and effort.
No hard work please – we’re British.