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Chinese Math vs. British Indiscipline

Via Prufrock (subscribe for free!), here’s a story about how a group of Chinese math and science teachers came into a British school for four weeks, and taught the kids there the Chinese way: 12 hours of instruction from a teacher at a whiteboard. Result? The British kids performed much better than the control group on tests. Excerpt:

The Chinese teachers who taught them were initially shocked by the children’s disruptive behaviour, blaming the generosity of Britain’s benefits system for their lack of ambition and ill-discipline.


[A British teacher] added: ‘I think that the way that the Chinese students respect their teachers is something we ought to have in this country.’ However, he said he was reluctant to take on all of their methods. ‘We probably do need a longer day at school, but do we really want children working 15-16 hours a day? That, to me, doesn’t really sound like childhood, that sounds like almost prison.

‘The Chinese school works with children who are already bright, who are already motivated… it does challenge the most able pupils but does it do it in a nurturing way?’

One Chinese teacher told the programme that the option of living on welfare handouts had produced ‘feather-bedded’ teenagers prone to rudeness and disrupting the classroom rather than concentrating on working and getting ahead.

Wei Zhao said: ‘Even if they don’t work, they can get money, they don’t worry about it.

Well, maybe. The difference between how kids behaved in the classroom between the first public high school I went to, and the second one (for gifted kids), was significant. I was shocked to be in a school where the teachers almost never had to tell students to be quiet, to sit up straight, to pay attention, to quit teasing their neighbor, and so forth. When I went back to visit my favorite teacher in my old school, I could hardly believe how hard she had to work just to maintain class discipline. The thing is, some of these kids were on welfare, but by no means were all of them so — and it wasn’t just the welfare kids who were disruptive. Additionally, my old school taught kids from a culture — the Deep South’s — which prizes respect for older people, especially authority figures.

I don’t think the “benefits” theory of the Chinese teachers makes a lot of sense. Intuitively it does, but in my (admittedly highly limited, anecdotal case), the difference between Anglo-American culture and Chinese culture probably tells us more about the discrepancy. But I would like to hear from teachers among this blog’s readership. What do you see in your classroom?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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