One of the benefits to teaching over the Internet to China is I get to experience Chinese culture, even though I can’t travel. Like any culture, there are good parts and bad.
As an alternative educator, it’s rough listening to the kids talk about being at school for 12 hours, coming home for dinner and my English class, and then doing another three hours of homework. There are no elective courses in Chinese schools. If you don’t get extremely good marks, you’re just ignored. If you, god forbid, have a learning disability, then just forget about getting anywhere.
I’ve noticed the Chinese school system is also very limited in what is taught to the students. Despite the insistence all children learn English so they can leave China, geography and history are only taught in the upper grades, and focus almost entirely on China (and they, oddly enough, leave out some 40 years of Chinese history). Maths and physical sciences are pushed very hard, but natural sciences and the arts are not considered worthwhile.
What is getting to me this week is the selective learning the Chinese still practice. One of my classes has six 10-12 year olds, all of whom are at least a high level 2. As they’re now able to ask fluent questions, we are getting into topics the average North American child would be interested in at that age. This week, we were discussing body art. The kids were happy, and talking constantly about piercings, tattoos, make up, etc.; this is a subject which opens their little mouths. However, by Tuesday, the parents were involved. They didn’t want their children learning about this, because it didn’t have anything to do with English class. And I wasn’t, even in passing, to refer to Chinese foot binding. And, may I be struck dead by a large thunderbolt, what was I doing showing them Zits comics with that Pierce character in it?
I have this problem in North America, too, where a child is interested in something, so I teach it, and the parents expend their last breath telling me there was no need to enlighten their child on that subject. In Canada, though, I feel justified in maintaining my stance: local historical ghost stories, for instance, are not something the average teenager will have problems with, especially if said teenager is the one who took the book out of the school library. In China, I’m not quite so sure where I stand.
In homeschooling my own children, I decided nothing was taboo. If vampires are the interest, we study vampires. If war is what is selling, we study war. There are always ways of broaching a subject which keeps everyone in a comfortable place, yet allows the student to investigate something which is of interest. Sex, for instance, can start with a historical research project on which cultures wore underpants and corsets, and head into advertising.
It strikes me as counterproductive, this extensive list of things children aren’t supposed to learn. If we make a big deal of it, the student will just become more intrigued. If it’s an interest, use it to teach another skill; read about all the prostitutes and sparkly vampires you like; tell me what you think of people with 30 facial piercings; write a script for a kung-fu film.
As Roshan Seth’s character in My Beautiful Laundrette said, “We all must have knowledge if we’re to understand what is being done to whom in this country”.