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Shanghai is an education factory

Reader Comment: Great editorial! Entertaining and eye opening! I would take a balanced human being any day. I have met a few people in the States for whom "intelligence" is superior to anything and stand tall as they brain dump everything they read (an activity they do most) but have no clue how to reach out to others in loving ways, take time to play, listen to music, enjoy the outdoors, yes, even ride a bike or simply enjoy a sunset on the beach. Their entire identity is wrapped up in academic achievement or intellectual stroking of their ego. Who wants a population who doesn't know how to live? The movie "Race to Nowhere" depicts children here in the U.S. who are being pressured to become stressed out, over achieving robots who may one day become alcoholics or worse, parents who put pressure on THEIR children to become like them. A happy person is a well-rounded person - there is so much more to our humanity than scoring high on a test!

by Paul Karrer

An educational brouhaha has surfaced regarding the latest PISA (Program for International Assessment) testing because Shanghai is in first place. Blarney Dunderhead (Education Secretary Arne Duncan) and company are running around like Pearl Harbor is being bombed again.

OK, here's the facts.

Shanghai is a city! All the other scores are averaged downward by the fact that they represent scores from entire countries. One city, Shanghai, let 5,100 of its educationally predisposed Ÿber-kids take a test. Mind you, this is Shanghai. For those of you not in the know, Shanghai is the Chinese equivalent of Manhattan, financially, educationally, logistically and competitively.

So, 5,100 Chinese-Manhattan-like kids scored numero uno on the test. Umm, like duuuh. Shanghai is the center of the universe in China. If you are Chinese and you have any get-up-and-go, Shanghai is where you scurry off to. And in case you haven't noticed, there are 2.6 billion feet in China. (Minus a few for industrial accidents, etc.) Forty million million feet traipse about in Shanghai.

Among that 5,100 group of little Spartan-like testees, you can be certain there were no special ed kids, no kids with ADD or ADHD, nor any wayward Dalai Lama-inclined-Tibetans. These were all top-of-the-food-chain munchkins.

Little history lesson. It was the Chinese who developed massive, countrywide imperial testing in the Sui Dynasty in AD 605. So they know how to study. Chinese kids study all day and many
days. My wife is Asian. She went to school from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and then went back for more on Saturday. Because of this, she did not learn how to ride a bike, drive a car or swim.

Historically, there were three ways to advance in Chinaâbusiness, military and education. Guess which avenue was and is most favored? Yup, the education route. As one who has taught in Asia, I can tell you these folks tend to be crazy about education.

The kicker is this. In order to be literate in Chinese, one has to totally immerse oneself in learning. There are more than 4,000 characters to memorize. It isn't a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y, long vowel, short vowel. Literacy in China is a lifelong venture. One must study. End of story. The Chinese are motivated. And many of these motivated types congregate in Shanghai.

Arne Duncan showed his mug on TV (with the appropriately vetted mutes seated behind him) and squawked about the Shanghai Syndrome. "The sky is falling. The sky I falling."

He did say one intelligent thing, though, but he didn't understand it. "Scores in America have not changed in 10 years. It's not that American scores have gone down, but rather that other countries' scores have come up."

Mr. Duncan, do you know why? Because President Bush implemented No Child's Behind is Left then. And it destroyed us. Now President Obama has stuck his fingers in the eyes of educators as well with his Race To Flop.

By the way, the No. 2 contender for PISA scores is Finland. Finland is a little country, but there is more equity in its society than in ours. The poverty rate in Finland is less than 5 percent. The poverty rate in the U.S. is 20 percent and growing. Hmmm, that might be a variable. Oh yeah, and the Fins pay their teachers really, really well. But Blarney Dunderhead and Co. want to build boutique charter schools for profit.

Paul Karrer teaches in Castroville and writes about education for this page.

— Paul Karrer
Monterey Herald


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