News from Alfonso - 1/24

Dear Friends,
Yesterday I did a presentation on how best to teach Chinese in the US. Of course the hu mama (Tiger mother, from Amy Chua's new book) was a topic of conversation. The hu mama doesn't appall me. In my estimation she is "ma ma hu hu" which means horse horse tiger tiger and in Chinese represents, "so so". Back in the day, in New York, there were lots of moms of every ethnicity who were equally driven about their kids' success and so drove their kids just about as hard. David Brooks of the New York times had a great response, with the headline "Amy Chua is a wimp." His point was that even if you make your kids practice math and piano for hours, if you disallow them any social life, they are losing very important lessons in reading social situations, figuring out group dynamics, understanding how you are viewed by a group, and possibly how to exercise leadership and negotiation. This is a good reminder for us to reconsider what we are talking about when we talk about rigor. Are we talking about the number of problems answered or the development of genuine understanding, or both.

On a related note, when the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results were released about a week ago, guess which first time participant came out on top in all three categories of math, science, and reading. Shanghai. (Not all of China, just Shanghai which is a unique demographic in China.) Yesterday on China Radio International there was a wonderful panel discussion including Chinese Education and Social Science Professors. All on the panel agreed, as does the whole country apparently, "This was not a big surprise, nor is it such a big deal to us. We know our kids are trained test takers but we also know we need to work on teaching our kids how to think creatively and independently." If the US had even broken the top ten in the world, I think there would have been a national holiday (perhaps foolishly). But admirably, China's Wen Jibao says "we have to keep working at it." And China has one of the narrowest achievement gaps between high and low performers, and we have one of the largest gaps. If only we could be less doggedly pursuing what China recognizes is not enough- high stakes tests! Seems like Race to the 19th Century might be a better name.

Furthermore, when politicians tell us that we must have a lot more information and tests in education in order to compete, please completely ignore them. If you visit Yong Zhao's website, you will see that studies have clearly shown that on measures like the Global Competitiveness Index and the Innovation Scale, there is very little correlation between the performance on international comparison tests and the state of the economy or innovation in a given country, and we are one of the best examples of that.

All of this reminds me very strikingly that our role is to provide kids with real challenge- that of learning to find information and to synthesize it, analyze it, and present it themselves and then hopefully create something very new from their experience. We all know kids will need to create, to collaborate, to analyze, to think critically, to communicate through technology and in as many languages as possible. Let me end with 6 "senses" the writer Daniel Pink sites as being crucial for our age:

  1. Design, the ability to "create something physically beautiful and emotionally transcendent”

  2. Story, the ability to "fashion a compelling narrative“

  3. Symphony, the ability to see "the big picture and be able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole";

  4. Empathy, the ability to "understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others";

  5. Play, the ability to laugh and bring laughter to others; and

  6. Meaning, the ability to "pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfillment."

Have a terrific week,
Alfonso, 503-226-2496 x109

P.S. Lastly, having researched the plate number, we were happy to learn that the recent offensive driver was most likely not a TIS parent. Thank you to the vast majority of you who always drive carefully and courteously. I appreciate that.