Monday, February 21, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conferences in China

(from Country Driving, by Peter Hessler.)

During the first six weeks of school, Wei Jia distinguished himself by an early interest in English, an unruffled demeanor, and a complete refusal to sit still. In a Chinese classroom, the group is the foundation for every endeavor, and each child always knows his place within that organization ... Peer discipline is crucial — children who misbehave are often asked to stand before the class, where other students help the teacher criticize the guilty party. At the beginning none of this seemed to faze Wei Jia. Having missed kindergarten, he had no concept of school routines; he talked out of turn and he played with pencils at his desk. He lost school assignments and he forgot homework. He wandered the classroom during lessons ...

These infractions, along with a host of others, were described at the first parent-teacher conference. In Chinese schools, such meetings are communal: all of the parents attend at once, and all of them listen as the teacher summarizes each child's performance. The good students are praised, the bad students are criticized, and the listening parents are socialized in much the same way as the children: by the power of the group. There is no greater loss of face than hearing in public that your child does poorly at school. And the bad ones always receive the most attention ... And Wei Jia — he was the fidgeter, the classroom-wanderer, the kid who played with pebbles in the principal's presence.

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