Can Pandas Play Baseball?

The question of American education in China

Presented at the TOWER Conference on Innovation in Education • Shanghai, China • 19 October 2016

I was asked to speak about adapting American education for China, and to discuss how best Chinese and American practices might be blended together — retaining the strengths of both.

First, I would like to ask you: “why — for what reasons, and to what end — would a school with primarily Chinese students want to adopt an American-style education?”

Simply to attend US colleges, or to learn English?

Both strike me as wrong-headed, even naïve.

By way of a response, I need to pose two more questions that point toward a potential answer:

First, what do we mean by “American education,” since it’s an incredibly diverse and hard-to-identify idea, unlike the far more universal and standardized system in China?

Second, how can an American-style education be usefully adopted, with Chinese characteristics, effectively balancing students’ and families’ needs and expectations with the broader goals of such a hybrid approach?

Beyond its diversity, and even many weaknesses — what is the best of American education?

I’ll use photographs from a recent World Leadership School program that I helped organize — taking a group of students and two faculty members to Mumbai and the rural village of Chinchoti, India.

The best American-style education is one that:

• Understands the “whole child,” and the development of their self as an emotionally aware, thoughtful, and conscientious young person.

• Accepts failure as crucial for even greater success, and attempts to mitigate the shame and disappointment associated with failure — to encourage risk-taking and teamwork, as well as creative, independent problem-solving skills.

• Allows young people to see the world through another’s eyes.

• Values experience and hard work — getting dirty.

• Recognizes physical challenges as crucial for self-awareness and the development of leadership and team-work skills.

• Celebrates accomplishments, and knows when to have fun.

You know much more about Chinese education than I ever will. Yet I do know that with an area of fundamental importance to society, like education, it’s complex when one tries to integrate different cultures, or to shift and develop your own well-established traditions.

I don’t think you can take a mathematical approach: some fraction of American, plus some fraction of Chinese, education, will not yield a whole number.

Instead we return to the question of “why”?

For me, I would love to see a product with the same magnitude as the iPhone say not “designed in California, made in China,” but rather “designed in China, made for the world.”

Education in the US has developed in response to a collision of cultures; it reflects a society built by people from every corner of the world.

As an outsider, I see in China an ancient civilization with a huge reservoir of traditions, from the wisdom of Confucius to the visionary principles of Chairmen Mao, Deng and Xi.

I also see a huge diversity of traditions and cultures, all within China, and all with unique contributions in shaping the one China that continues into the future.

To my mind, the goal ought to be to envision the China of the future, and its place in the world.

The paramount importance of peace and stability — and prosperity — I believe, can be reached most effectively through education, by giving young people the confidence, the courage, the humility and, above all, the curiosity, to explore themselves and this world: rooted in Chinese history and culture, yet warmly welcomed as global visionaries of the future.

— Chris Moses, Academic Dean, Montverde Academy • Shanghai

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