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How Good Are China’s Schools?

In response to:

Finish That Homework! from the August 18, 2011 issue

To the Editors:

Whatever is wrong with American education, it would be a disaster to look to China as a model. It may be true that, as Diane Johnson writes [NYR, August 18], the popularity of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is in some way “emblematic of the rise of China itself”; but she does not refer to actual methods of education in China and it would be unfortunate if readers misunderstood her as doing so.

Chinese education has been meticulously designed by the Communist Party to deprive students of an all-around view of their country’s past. Anyone who has conversed with the best Chinese students now in the UK, at Oxford or the LSE for example, will be dumbfounded by what they say about Mao, Tiananmen, and Tibet. As an antidote to Ms. Chua’s frightening book, which may provoke guilt and shame among American parents, I suggest they read The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung (2011), a novel set in China’s near future in which nearly everyone has forgotten almost everything about the last sixty years. This is made more credible by the fact that the author lives in Beijing.

Jonathan Mirsky
London, England

Diane Johnson replies:

Jonathan Mirsky is right that neither Professor Chua, nor I in my review of her book, deal with education in China. I have no information on Chinese educational methods, and perhaps Chua, an American, doesn’t either. But it is interesting to note that new reports of academic achievement that include such places as Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong place them far above America and the UK—Shanghai, in fact, at number one. Whatever these tests really measure is a question, of course. I hope Mr. Mirsky will expand further on his findings about Chinese students’ understanding of history.

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