Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An Evening With…Dr. Yong Zhao

Every year I am eager to see the “Evening with…” dinner and speaker at the Illinois bilingual conference.  This year we were honored to have Dr. Yong Zhao as our guest speaker. If you have not heard of Dr. Zhao, check out his website or one of his many publications.     
 Photo courtesy of Nicole Conroy

Not only was Dr. Zhao’s presentation insightful, he struck the perfect balance between serious and funny.  As someone who does professional development for a living, I know how difficult that can be. 
Dr. Zhao began his talk by asking the audience – what kind of education do you want to buy for your children?  He provoked us to really think about what is most important when educating our children.  Do we want children who do well on tests or students who show creativity?  In a moment of both humor and complete seriousness, Dr. Zhao mentioned
Lady Gaga and reminded us that she is a product of the American school system.  While we chuckled, he mentioned how much she earns and then explained his own father’s consternation at Lady Gaga’s lack of necessary life skills.  Notably, Dr. Zhao’s father lives in a small village in China.  If Lady Gaga moved there, her entertainment skills would be quickly trumped by her inability to plow the fields with a water buffalo.  By this point in his talk, I was intrigued.  Where is Dr. Zhao going with this? 
As he went on, he juxtaposed newspaper quotes from Chinese and American sources.  He showed where the U.S. educational system was strong and where it was weak.  We may be weak in math and science scores, but we are strong in confidence and creativity.  So while we are trying to model our schools after countries like China and India, which have great math and science scores, China and India are working to make their students more creative and confident.  A classic example of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence! So let me end today’s post with one more observation from Dr. Zhao.  America is unique in that our teachers can foster creativity and confidence in their students because of the rich resources available to us in this country (e.g. public libraries, museums).  Anyone anywhere can teach math with a piece of paper and a pencil (for that matter, dirt and a stick would also work). What do you think?  What kind of education do you want for your children? Do you want creative thinkers, or great test takers?

Written by: Tammy King

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