China vs. US Education System


This passage stood out:

I predict most of my Bay Area friends would hate the Chinese education system as Chu describes it. I predict this because they already hate the US education system, which is only like 10% as bad. I’m especially thinking of @webdevmason and @michaelblume, who often write about the ways American education is frustrating, regressive, and authoritarian. Bright-eyed, curious kids come in. They spend thirteenish years getting told to show their work, being punished for reading ahead in the textbook, and otherwise having their innate love of learning drummed out of them in favor of endless mass-produced homework assignments (five pages, single-spaced, make sure you use the right number of topic sentences).

Many smart liberals and conservatives alike can relate to the awfulness of America’s public education system (and private schools are not much better either).

Salman Khan, John Gatto, and other education rebels trace the current school systems back to the Prussians, who invented compulsory education to prepare children for a career as infantrymen or factory workers. It’s a great story. Like most great stories, it’s kind of false. But like most kind-of-false things that catch on, it has an element of truth. Children who can sit still in a classroom and do what their teachers say are well-placed to become adults who can sit still in an open office and do what their bosses say. So (according to this logic), even if our schools are awful, they were well-suited to the Industrial Age economy. Some hypothetical mash-up of Otto von Bismarck and Voldemort, who wanted the country to produce as much as possible and didn’t care how many children’s souls were crushed in the process, might at least endorse the education system on widget-maximization grounds.

I am skeptical of this popular narrative that schools are intended to create obedient workers.

Even if both school systems are stifling and oppressive, there is the shared narrative that at least China’s education system and society, for all its flaws, vales competence more so than America’s system, which values political correctness more. Given how China’s economy, in two generations, went from being nothing to being the second largest in the world, they must be doing something right.