From Yao to Mao is a great overview of China – its more than 3,000 year culture until the present, post Mao world. It is only from understanding the long history of China that one understands the importance of the Gaokao – or the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, and its imprint on the Chinese kids and their parents. Test taking was ingrained into the Chinese culture over 1300 years ago, when the Sui Dynasty established the imperial examinations to select the best administrative officials for the state. For the Chinese, taking THE examination has been THE passport to a better life. (Oh, the Indian test for their IIT schools is just as tough, and promising – those who don’t pass it have ivy league schools as their safety schools. I would tend to believe them.)
I bring up the Chinese exam taking history because it is now impinging on my kids’ SAT exams.
I overheard a radio interview with Daniel Golden, an editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, who wrote about China’s Test Prep Juggernaut. Taking aside the fact that many of the students featured in the article may or may not be good in English (oh, but they ace the math part. Of course.) and that these same students still get over 2000 SATs because of their test preparation, my take away is that someone just tiptoed again.
Let me explain. When you stand on the roadside waiting for the parade to pass by, you may choose to sit on the curb. As the parade nears, you may notice there are now people blocking your view (because you were sitting!) and are now standing in front of you. Fine. So you stand, to see the parade. But people in front of the people in front of you are now also blocking others’ view. So the people in front of you tiptoe – to get a better view. SO, for you to see anything at all, you have to tiptoe as well – just like everyone around you has tiptoed.
The standards have changed. For you to do what you originally wanted to do, you had to move from sitting, to standing to tiptoeing. (or, for some people, take a TI89 instead of a TI84 with you to the SATs)
When I see an article like Golden’s about how these new entrants are changing the game, I can join the chorus of complaints and stamp my feet. I can even join a movement work to change the rules of the game, like when the SAT scores were re-centered because of declining American results. Or I can, as Amy Chua’s Tiger Father herself said, “Never explain, never make excuses. If something is unfair at school just prove yourself by working twice as hard and being twice as good.”
Oh, and about those Chinese kids who couldn’t speak English well? That might not be quite true either.