Tag Archives: Chronicle of Higher Education

Something I recently learned

3 Mar

Chinese-students

The reason Chinese students have the highest test scores in the world is because they cheat.

If that is not entirely true, it is at least partially true.

In the U.S., Asian and Asian-American students appear to work harder than their Caucasian classmates. Anyone who has observed this can easily believe the reports of China’s international dominance in reading, science and math. Test results say students from Shanghai lead the world, with the U.S. as a whole coming in 29th.

Why is it then that Americans always win an unusually high number of Nobel Prizes while the Chinese win very few?

Well, maybe we’ve rigged that system – which is something the Chinese seem to have done with the system of international test scores.

Book-Afraid of the DragonA new book has put a spotlight on the weaknesses of the Chinese education system and exposed fraud and cheating. It was written by Yong Zhao and is entitled, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.” A full discussion of the book can be found in a Nov. 20 article by Diane Ravitch in the New York Review of Books. (subscription required)

Here are three items plucked from the review:

  • It is not uncommon for Chinese test takers to use wireless cheating devices.
  • Sometimes the students just buy the test answers on the open market.
  • When there was a rare crackdown on cheating in Hubei Province, a riot broke out. Two thousand people reportedly smashed cars and chanted, “We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.”

This is not to deny that there is incredible test preparation in China. One famous test-prep school starts at 6:30 a.m., finishes at 10:30 p.m. and gives homework. But do these students actually learn anything? There is increasing legitimacy, in both America and China, in the argument that teaching to the test does not a genius make.

In the final analysis, creativity and innovation are sacrificed.

PISA-test-scoresZhao points out that the Chinese invented the compass but instead of using it to navigate the globe, they used it to find locations and burial sites with good fengshui. He said China – which had no Renaissance, no Enlightenment and no Industrial Revolution — was the first with gunpowder but never used it for modern weaponry.

Then there is this business of the Nobel Prize. A quick search of the Internet shows the Chinese have won six while the U.S. has won 353.

In his book, Zhao quotes a professor at Beijing University who says that since 1949 there has not been a single Nobel laureate among the 1 billion people educated in mainline China:

“No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college. . . . This forcefully testifies [to] the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of the [Chinese] society.”

It’s been said that Zhao wrote his book to convince the U.S. not to discard an education system that emphasizes fresh ideas and the spirit of individualism. It’s for certain he doesn’t want us to be suckered in by reports of China’s high test scores.

Standardized tests and teaching to those test is a growing America practice due to current government policy, but Zhao and Ravitch warn:

If the West is concerned about being overtaken by China, then the best solution is to avoid becoming China.

 

My own opinion is that the Chinese are a lot smarter than Zhao lets on. For one, I think Chinese mariners of old did a lot more global navigation than his statements suggest. And with respect to gunpowder, in some circles China might be considered highly moral and civilized for preferring firecrackers over canons.

I’ve been amazed by both the ancient and the modern Chinese mind. Its effectiveness should never be underestimated or said to lack creativity. If the American mind has dulled – and there really is no evidence of that – it is because it has become too comfortable. Fortunately, the Chinese economic miracle has given it some discomfort.

If it is napping, it will surely wake, and soon.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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Grand Dad was a Communist

8 Dec

Comrades Some Republicans say President Obama is a Communist. He’s not much of a Communist.

For real Communism consider Earl Browder, an ultimate Red Stater who took orders from Stalin and was covertly followed by both the FBI and the KGB. On the Communist party ticket, he ran twice for president against FDR. He made the cover of Time magazine. At the time, Browder’s popularity had been fueled by turmoil of the Great Depression.

While people may have understood and even respected him during those years, times did change. In changing times, his surviving family members mostly had to live uncomfortably with this unusual legacy, or else hide from it.

Granddaughter Laura Browder decided to write about it. But first she had to learn about it.

A professor of American studies at the University of Richmond, Browder had authored a book on the radical 1930s but always maintained her family’s privacy. Until recently, she hadn’t venture too deeply into the past of Earl Browder, a man she knew as a quiet visitor on Thanksgivings. Now she is probing his life and parting decades of silence.

“I was struck by the impossibility of finding definitive answers to the mysteries of the past and the desperate importance of trying anyway,” she wrote in a Nov. 23 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

At Syracuse University, she found a trove of archival material that Earl Browder, then broke, had sold. Among his papers were family letters and photos, including a picture of Laura’s father as a child, posing in shorts while holding a real sickle and a real hammer.

Her father told her he had no recollection of the photo.

I wish Laura Browder luck with her project and hope it brings her family closer while promoting an understanding of things we don’t understand.

Her piece in the Chronicle made me ponder the idea of Communism in general, how its advocates went from philosophy to revolution, to inspired hope, to authoritarian brutality, to controlling half the world, to creating great fear and insecurity in the U.S., to finally becoming an utter failure and an almost laughable concept.

Oddly, it remains vital enough to be used as a political smear.

During the later part of the Cold War, the American preoccupation with Communism made me want to observe it. So I took a job in China, working as a low-level editor in the English language section of the government’s top news agency, Xinhua. On the plane over I spoke to a party man returning home.

His English was good. So was his suit. He was sharp and intelligent. Dapper and cool. He said he preferred a system where the government looked out for its people.

“You don’t seem the type that needs looking after,” I said.

“That’s true,” he answered. “I can take care of myself. I can survive under any system. But I have a brother. Without Communism he would be lost.”

I guess it’s a comforting idea to think one can never be lost.

My very first real reaction to upclose Communism was equally comforting. I walked into my office on the first day and an elderly Chinese woman handed me a fat envelope filled with cash. She said it was my pay for the month.

“But I haven’t done anything yet,” I said.

“You will.”

“Suppose I run away?”

“You won’t.”

Another good thing about Communism back in the mid-80s was you didn’t pay rent, or you paid very little. For the Chinese, almost all they earned was disposable income. I knew a young guy who blew his entire month’s salary on payday and managed to make it to the end of the month.

Under old Communism – as opposed to the new, market-based variety —  the Chinese didn’t worry about finding a job. One was assigned. That was good, unless the job was in some wasteland 2,000 miles from home and it was something you didn’t want to do. A woman I knew studied the Portuguese language in college and upon graduation was sent to Brazil to be a foreign correspondent. She knew nothing of journalism.

Things were easiest for those friendly with party bosses, even the minor ones. Conversely, offending a party boss could destroy your life, especially if the boss was a bad Communist. Where I worked, we knew who the bad and good Communists were. The bad Communists used their positions to get ahead and destroy their enemies. The good Communists volunteered to work holidays and cleaned the office (there were no janitors). The so-so Communists loved them.

In those days, powerful Communists used influence to get two-room apartments (a quantum leap from one room) and to score beer during summer shortages. Today they use influence to take over companies and become multi-millionaires.

Irony has yet to strike American Communists. Without power, influence or temptation they can remain pure. In the video below, Glenn Beck interviews an avuncular old man who probably resembles Laura Browder’s grandfather. For 40 years he has been the head of the American Communist Party, an organization about as visible as bad breath. He almost gets the best of Beck. Then the Communist, in an inadvertent knock against private property, takes a sip of Glenn Beck’s water. Watch Beck react.

 –By Lanny Morgnanesi

Who is apt to throw a bomb?

16 Sep

 

 

 

“Real anarchists don’t throw bombs,” the political science professor said while lecturing a class at a Lancaster County (Pa.) college. “There’s a large group of them living on farms not far from here. They’ve never thrown a bomb. Do you know who they are?”

The class didn’t.

“They’re the Amish.”

The professor went on to explain about organized groups who prefer to live without government.

It was an interesting exercise, separating violence and radicalism from a term that normally suggests only terror.

I thought about this lecture, given during a time of great unrest in the U.S., after reading a piece by Carlin Romano in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (I’d link to it but you have to subscribe.) Romano, a former journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, teaches philosophy at Ursinus College. He called his piece, “Getting to the Root of ‘Radical’ ”

In part, he takes a look at some of the clever definitions historic figures have given to political labels.

Here’s FDR:

“A Radical is a man with both feet planted — in the air. A Conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward. A Reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards. A Liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest  — at the command  — of his head.”

And Woodrow Wilson:

“By ‘radical,’ I understand one who goes too far; by ‘conservative,’ one who does not go far enough; by ‘reactionary,’ one who won’t go at all.”

Poet Robert Frost, according to Romano, said:

“I never dared be radical when young for fear it would make me conservative when old.”

Pretty good.

OK. So how should we categorize the thousand who have taken to the streets of Middle Eastern cities in anti-Western protests?

How about young, unemployed, angry, outraged, frustrated? I’m not sure there is any real politics involved. The non-political radical may be the most dangerous of all. Unlike the Amish, they will throw bombs.

– Lanny Morgnanesi

 

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