| Alfred C. Snider | April 15-16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 2001| Other Journals | Debate Central |
I awaken in the Beijing Grand Hotel. Jim Lombardo is there but I didn't really hear him come in. I work on my journal for a while, but want to let him rest so I go downstairs for Breakfast. I actually taker a camera because I have really enjoyed the food at the Beijing Grand but haven't taken a photo of it yet.
The food is wonderfully varied -- soups, beverages, wonderful steamed breads, boiled egg, vegetables, wonderful stuffed steamed buns, rice, friend dough, and a wide array of different exotic items like pickled vegetables and strange cakes.
I get to enjoy being reunited with my group at breakfast, hearing about their adventures (Taishan Mountain was a tough thing to miss) and telling them about my adventures.
We don't have long to dawdle, actually, as today is a busy day, with a school visit coming up. We board a bus (it is good to see Ardong again) and head off to the Hatien District, where a former student of mine Melissa Fregosi is teaching. We will be allowed to visit any class and ask any questions we want.
As we proceed there by bus the traffic is bad and we get stuck in one specific jam as a road narrows precipitously. Several of my compani0ons are a little worse for wear from the evening festivities at the Hard Rock Café. I, of course, am all loud and excited until I realize they are a bit hung over, then I try and tone it down some.
Because we are not surely precisely where we are going Juefei calls ahead and has someone he knows who is nearby meet us at a crossroads and take us the rest of the way.
Middle school we visit in Hatien district of Beijing | Principal, with Melissa Fregosi translating
It is a lovely school, and serves seven, eight, and ninth grade students, Su Jia Tuo Middle School. We are ushered into a meeting where we are introduced to the school principal, the assistant principal, and the Community Party secretary who is in charge of the schools in this region. Melissa Fregosi is there to translate for us, and she does a wonderful job.
We ask questions and are oriented to the school. Then a list of morning classes are given to us and we are allowed to pick which classes we would like to attend and then an English language teacher will accompany us and help explain what is going on.
I pick a "Moral Education" class because its content intrigues me. It seems to be a cross between values education and civics, with a particular focus on how the Chinese governmental system operates. In Chinese schools they have 40 minute periods all day, and most teachers only teach two classes a day, and spend the rest of the time preparing their lessons and correcting rests and homework. There are about 40 students in the class, and this is their "home room" as the teachers come to them and they stay in the same room.
"Moral Education" class | English language class
The lesson is about basic rights of Chinese citizens, with special focus on the rights and obligations of citizens concerning elections. The Chinese government system is spelled out and all the different offices. The obligation to vote is discussed as well as who can and who cannot vote, with over 97% of the population in the voting pool. I notice that you can vote for candidates of your choice, but there is no discussion about how candidates get on the ballot. I assume that the party plays a big role in this.
The style in the classroom is very rigid. The teacher states a point, people right it down. If she asks a question, it is expected that it will be found in the text and when the answer is found a student raises his or her hand and then reads the answer from the book. In all classes the central government imposes a curriculum which needs to be covered day by day. There is information which students are expected to learn and remember, and then later they will be tested on this material. Testing of these students will determine what kind of high school they go to. Testing in high school determines which kind of college or university they will attend, with a high score needed to attend at all. The test is everything, and they teach the test.
The teacher is colorful and articulate, and Ardong provides an excellent translation of her lesson. She uses personal examples about when she ran for office. It teaches the content, but to me it seemed like a very different educational experience than I had ever seen. Now I better understood why so many Chinese educators believe the system needs to be reformed to teach more problem solving, critical thinking, and promote creativity by students. This system seems to motivate students to learn the essential data, and they do learn it, but it lacks a focus on process. I admire the rigor and discipline they have and would like to find a way to integrate that into my own teaching.
The next class I observed instruction in English. The teacher used pictures and patterns to build basic sentences. Once again, however, the method was very "rote learning," with students repeating given phrases and sentences over and over again. I did notice that the articulation of the students was quite good. I understood a little better how our translators had been so skilled after watching these seventh graders learn English.
We went back to the meeting room where we had first gathered and carried on a lively discussion with the Party secretary and a few others about the differences and what we can learn from each other. After we were all there and had been engaged in a discussion for a while, it was time to go to lunch.
Juefei had arranged for a lunch for all of us at a nearby restaurant, and we went with the Party secretary, the principal, the assistant principal, and Melissa. It was nearby, and we all trooped in. The food was marvelous, really excellent. We had good conversations and a number of toasts. I really was thankful for how open they had made their school to us. I also got a chance to hear a bit more about Melissa's plans, that she will finish her teaching and then look for a job in information technology where she can use her English-Chinese skills as well as her web skills. Check Melissa's website at http://melissafregosi.tripod.com/china/index.html.
Lunch after the school visit | Principal, Melissa, Party Secretary, Vice Principal
Lunch is over and we all say goodbye. I wave farewell to Melissa, thinking how long it has been and how far she has come since I first met her at a UVM novice debate training session. She has done well for herself and there is a lot more to come.
We go back to the hotel and my companions begin planning what to do during the rest of the afternoon. Some go to the Beijing Zoo, others to the Summer Palace, and others just nap. I stay in my room and work on my journal as well as on one of two lectures I have to give in Atlanta at the National Urban Debate League Conference held at Emory. I know that I need to work on this now instead of letting it slide.
I even take a short nap after flitting through all of the Chinese television stations and watching Shanghai local news in English.
I awaken in time for dinner, and this is to be our farewell banquet, for we leave the next day. I arrive and find myself seated at a table with lots of interesting new people to meet. I am seated next to a handsome gentleman with as beautiful voice who works in the communication program at the Foreign Ministry. I am also with several other new Chinese persons from very diverse backgrounds, and I enjoy meeting them and exchanging ideas very much. Here I am on the last night of my stay in China and I am still meeting fascinating new people. I am also at a table with two Americans from Marlboro College who will be attending a conference, also under the sponsorship of Juefei. They have just arrived in China that day, but are anxious to begin the process of discovery.
I have been dreading this part, where we have to start saying goodbye. I am especially sad to leave Li Ardong and the friends I have made among his students. They have been a lot of fun, and I have enjoyed sharing with them, even the little things, like hand slap games and handshakes and such. They were great to me on my Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Beijing Zoo portions of my visit, making it all very fun.
Final Party | Friends who jest
I will miss them. I drink toasts to their good health but know it is time to go. As the karaoke equipment appears I make a graceful exit without much fanfare,
I go to my room and work on my journal and my upcoming UDL lectures, but all of the images of the trip are racing through my head. I also begin to realize how difficult it is going to be to pack all of this stuff.
I do, however, find a way to clear all of my gear off the bed and take my final night of restful sleep in China -- at least during this visit.