We reported earlier on an elementary school in the Songjiang District whose focus was having its 12 pupils memorize Chinese classics such as the Analects (Lun Yu) and the Book of Changes (Yi Jing). Well, that school has been closed down by the authorities, who claim that this school contravenes the “compulsory education (yiwu jiaoyu)” laws. The Shanghai Daily reports that the school will be punished for charging high tuition fees (30,000 yuan a year), not having a government license, and because children are required to get nine years of compulsory education.
The story of this school illuminates interesting issues confronting Chinese education and society. Parents invest heavily in their children, hoping that this education will socialize their children, shape their characters, and prepare them for a job in the increasingly competitive society that awaits them in adulthood. How good a job has the compulsory education system done in this regard? We’re not qualified to say, but evidently, some parents are willing to shell out 30,000 yuan a year so that their children don’t have to go through this system — at least for several years. As this essay by Liu Haiming (in Chinese) suggests, this idea, as crackpot as it sounds, must have something to it if some parents choose to send their kids and spend their money there. Liu suggests that a global metropolis such as Shanghai, there ought to be enough room for a small private school to exist. It’s not as if private tutoring and schooling as an educational mode is foreign to China; compulsory education (as far as we know) has a relatively short history in China. Liu also argues that the prices are not exorbitant — private schools are by nature more expensive than public schools — and the choice to send one’s child to such schools ought to remain with the parents. He also argues that China should not cling to just one educational system. What’s so bad about having kids rotely memorize the classics? Sure they don’t understand them, but that’s what life is for. As much as Shanghaiist hates memorization (not our strong suit), we admit he’s got a point there. In what Americans call high school, when we were around 16 years old, we were made to read Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Joyce, all that good stuff — and of course, much of it was over our heads, not because it was in old English, but because life hadn’t prepared us to properly receive these works yet.
The essay goes on to basically accuse the authorities of using these excuses to shut down the school. Interestingly enough, Liu quotes Mao in saying that “those who have not done research have no right to speak,” meaning that unless you can prove that there is something inherently detrimental about what and how they are teaching children, you should refrain from making baseless accusations. It’s not surprising that there ought to be such accusations, since Confucius and Confucianism have been maligned for decades and anyone who is too fond of reciting the classics will be looked at askance — who takes an interest in classics when there are more exciting choices, such as pop idol contests. No one likes stuffy, turgid elitists either. Still, reading Liu’s essay, we were quite surprised by how critical the tone of it is. Someone’s going to get a spanking soon, and it ain’t one of the kids.
Photo from Chinapage.com.