As some of you know, last Saturday was the New Year Day in the Lunar calendar, which was also the first day of the Spring Festival in China. 2013 is the year of snake. Happy New year! Wish you all the best in the snake year :)
(This is a special stamp of the snake year)
Wei, the girl who I literally grow up with, visited me from China during the weekend, and we shared a lot about our life in the past half an year, a lot of which was about the difference of education we are receiving now.
Wei is a first-year master student in dermatology in a famous medical school in China. She told me that she loved her major, but she hated some of her classes, including English. I was surprised because I know she is good at English and she enjoys learning it. I asked why, and she gave me two examples to explain her disappointment of her English course.
First, she said there was not sophistication in the content of her English class. She believed that at the graduate school level, they should analyze the culture and ideas behind the lines in class. However, they were still working on the spelling and meaning of specific words. Second, the evaluation of the class did not motivate her to learn the language, but to recite the text book. In the final test, the instructor chose one text in their book, took several words out of it, and ask students to fill the blanks with those exact words. Although worked harder in many ways, Wei got the same result as others who did nothing more than reciting the text.
Her experience made me ponder what is the root of this phenomenon. Why are students in China constantly encouraged to recite the right answer from elementary school to graduate school? After reading the material about Freire, I think the reason lies in how education is supposed to serve the society.
In China, currently, the purpose of education is to maintain a steady society and to solidify the established governmental control. In other words, education dependents on and serve the government. Compared with western countries who pursue freedom, the goal of Chinese government is to construct a steady and harmonious society. The only way to achieve the so-called harmony is to eliminate different voices and form a total consensus among the people, and the only way to do that is to eliminate critical thinking from the people's mind through education.
It is part of human nature to be curious. Little children always ask questions about anything new to them and anything they do not fully understand. They always want to know why things are like this and why it is not like that. They are critical and creative about the answers they get and keep asking more follow-up questions. However, the ability of asking questions is not favorable to maintain a steady society. If all the people question the social hierarchy and the unfairness, and explore new possibilities, it will be way harder to maintain the regime. Therefore, to shut people's mouths and their minds, students are not encouraged to ask questions or make comments in class. The first criteria of a good class performance is to be quiet and receptive. Students are trained not to think, but to remember. They are told the facts, the values, and the right way to behave. They learn everything, but to think critically about their experience, the society, and how to change the society into a more free and equal place.
I think this kind of education, to some degree, dehumanizes human beings. The very first difference between human and other creatures and objects is that humans can think at a meta-cognitive level. In other words, humans are able to think about the way they think. People should be taught to self-evaluate their thinking process, detect their assumptions and consider multiple perspectives. Unfortunately, in many Chinese schools and universities, students are only taught to remember the right answer from the authority, to do specific jobs, and to function like a machine. They learn to be obedient and be grateful for what the government provides them. They stops thinking critically about the situation they are stuck in and become satisfied with the current social rules, although they deserve much more that what they actually get.
Now I begin to understand why I never read Freire in my university, why Google is censored, and why Facebook is banned in China. Any source that encourage different voices and new way of thinking about the social order is forbidden. However, I do not think this situation is going to last long. As said in an old Chinese saying, the people's voice is like a gigantic river, and no one will be able to block it off. Words of freedom are being spread. Numerous students who have studies in developed countries are bring ideas back to our homeland. As one of them, I hope to help catalyze social changes through education.