Promoting Chinese Language and Culture

By on September 18th, 2011

Cover Story

Promoting Chinese
Language and Culture

Weekly Updateby William Skilling
September 18, 2011

glob·al·i·za·tion — the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets.

The impact of globalization on Michigan’s economy, jobs and education has been a pressing concern for several years now. Even more alarming is the reactionary and irrational behavior of many of our politicians, educators, and businesses brought about by globalization.

There are those who believe our lower standard of living and loss of manufacturing jobs to China are reasons we should not work together economically. I would argue that those are the most compelling reasons to collaborate and promote Chinese language and culture in Michigan.

We do not need to see our global competitors as enemies, but rather, as partners in creating new business opportunities.

Governor Snyder is wise to pursue global business partnerships, and I am encouraged by his planned trip to China.

My passion as an educational leader is to prepare our students to live and work successfully in a global world that is changing 24/7. In the past three years, I have been to China nine times.

I have visited schools, met with representatives of the Hanban, China’s governing education authority, and developed relationships with educational leaders and business leaders that led to four sister school relationships, educational study tours for teachers and administrators, student exchanges, and a partnership for an American high school in Shenyang, China.

We are currently in the process of establishing two more K-12 American schools in China, which will open the fall of 2013. We also created Fifth Core™, Michigan’s largest proficiency-based world language program, which requires all students to study either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish for 11 years.

Oxford took its cues from Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Tom Watkins, a business and educational consultant in the U.S. and China, who both advocate the teaching and learning of Mandarin Chinese language and culture in our schools and building economic and educational bridges with China. In a recent comment to an EducationNews interview column by Michael F. Shaughnessy, Watkins wrote, “Oxford Community Schools and its leaders are putting teaching, learning and children ahead of power, control, politics and adults — and, as a result, kids win. Thank you for recognizing that we live in a time when ideas and jobs move around the world effortlessly and for opening up the world to your students.”

I encourage Gov. Snyder to visit the best schools in China and ask himself one question: Is this the type of education that will prepare Michigan students for the 21st- century global world?

The governor will learn the Chinese educational system is designed around high-stakes test taking and does not prepare students for complex problem-solving, working in teams, or creative innovation. As educators, the more we focus on standardized testing, the less our students will learn to create and invent, and the greater the global achievement gaps will become.

Global achievement gaps are the chasms between the new global skills and knowledge all students will need in order to be competitive in the 21st-century global workforce versus what is currently being taught and measured in our schools. No Child Left Behind will not only leave every child behind, but also our nation. Globalization does not have to create a winners/losers scenario, if we know what to do.

I hope Gov. Snyder comes back and rethinks the current direction of aligning state educational standards with national core standards. Any time we standardize learning, we are dumbing down the educational system. By narrowly defining what education is, we peel away the complex problem-solving across multiple disciplines, in unpredictable situations, in areas in which we are unfamiliar — that is needed in order to create and invent.

The irony is that China desperately wants to replicate the American educational system that we keep saying is failing students. They are trying to shed the very system we seem to be moving toward, and that change represents our biggest educational crisis.

In his book, Catching Up or Leading the Way, Dr. Yong Zhao notes a key problem with a pure cognitive learning model is that it doesn’t cater to all of the multiple intelligences. The result can be a class of students with high scores and low ability. In other words, we can catch up to developing countries by going to high-stakes testing, but stifle creativity and innovation in the process.

Born and raised in China, Zhao is former university distinguished professor and executive director of Michigan State University’s Confucius Institute and now the University of Oregon’s presidential chair and associate dean for global education at the College of Education. He bases many of his observations on firsthand experience as a student in China and as a parent of children attending school in the United States. In a review of Zhao’s book, Australian educator Dr. Neil MacNeill insists that this should be compulsory reading for educators and politicians. “It sounds a timely warning to all educators that we all need to stop and reassess the direction of Western education, as the assessment tail wags the education dog to death!”

I would like to see the governor put together a think tank of business leaders, political leaders, educational leaders and global entrepreneurs to develop new metrics for education. MEAP, MME, ACT or SAT should not be the standard by which we measure the global skills and knowledge students will need to be functionally employable. Continuing to use the wrong standards for determining success will result in a race to the bottom. True innovation in education is driven by knowing what to teach and how to teach in order to prepare students for the 21st-century global world. Function should drive structure — not the other way around.

I would like to extend my thanks to Gov. Snyder for laying the groundwork for Michigan’s recovery from financial and educational bankruptcy. Lessening the tax burden on businesses and lessening the MEA burden on schools through tenure reform have put Michigan on track for revitalization.

His visit to China is an important step toward a requisite transformational change in Michigan’s business and education sectors.

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William Skilling is superintendent of Oxford Community Schools in northern Oakland County.

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