Continued from the Part 2…
The desire to seek truth, knowledge, and understanding has always been one of the most powerful drives for human development. If something like the government’s censorship program is not within our control, then what about just internally cultivate our own ability to train our brains and think critically?
Many people born after the One-Child Policy was introduced in 1979 in China had very little awareness of their identity, their ambitions, and how to be an independence and responsible adult and there is a good reason for that.
A single child is the “only hope” for the family and it is not surprising that the parents are overprotective, tend to spoil the child and try to hold on to the child as tight as they can. They plan out everything for their child and never let them worry about anything in life. Whenever something falls apart, they take care of it for their child immediately even before he or she has a chance to reflect on what has just happened, let along to learn how to handle challenges and crisis on his or her own.
I’ve witnessed high-schoolers who cannot dress themselves or pack their own pencil case, moms who publicly denounce a prestigious university because the dorms are not equipped with air conditioning and thus “inhabitable” for their precious children, an international student from China whose first reaction when his cooking triggered the fire detector is to open the fridge because he thinks the smoke will fall on the floor once frozen (brain explode!!)… The list goes on.
The point is that, when life gets too comfortable for these children, they won’t even have a decent common sense for everyday life or build a strong mental fortitude for life’s challenges, let alone to grow up with a developed critical thinking ability. Sadly, these children slowly stop engaging with the decision-making process, care less and less about how things really work, drift further and further away from the reality, and gradually get used to living in their bubble with their parents around until eventually a crisis kicks in and an awakening call arrives.
The Education System
The Chinese government places a heavy empathize on testing rather than the real learning. Guess we cannot really blame them because there are just too many students in the country to have a more efficient way to quickly screen talents than a national testing system like the College Entrance Examinations. That being said, there are some real consequences on the rigid testing system, one of which being killing students’ critical thinking ability.
The exams are designed in a way that does not reward critical thinking. Only the predetermined answers in the answer-sheet are “correct”, even for topics related to ideology, philosophy, and politics. Anything outside of the scope of the answer-sheet has no points and therefore no value.
When I was a student, I actually never questioned this method because it made my life easy. All I needed to do was to make sure that I recite the correct answers, detect what the question is really trying to ask regardless of how it is worded otherwise, and carefully lay out the answer that I have already recited. Now I realized that it is not how tests are supposed to be designed. Those questions are not like math or physics problems. There should not be just one correct answer. This system forces students to constantly speculate how the examiners think and become great test-takers, rather than to really learn the subject and apply the learning to real life.
Thus, students’ critical thinking ability starts to deteriorate at the age when it is supposed to flourish the most.
The Cultural Influence
I still remember the first time when I learned the word “outstanding” in English, I was surprised to know that it means brilliant because I was conditioned to believe that it is a bad thing for anyone to stand out of the line which everybody is supposed to stand in. The traditional Chinese culture discourages students who think differently and desire to challenge the status quo. We are told to do what everybody is doing, comply with the rules, and be careful of any actions that might result in us being “out of the line”.
Different from the Western culture where respect has to be earned no matter how much older or more experienced you might be, in China and many Asian cultures, respect is entitled automatically based on your seniority. This creates the societal pressure to show respect by never questioning the authority and it starts with as early as the student-teacher relationship and goes all the way into the subordinate-boss relationship and most social encounters. And as the only ruling party in the country, the Chinese Communist Party is not making it better by emphasizing its own status and authority in an increasingly aggressive way.
Many teachers request students to stand up and bow to them whenever they enter the classroom. It would have been fine if it were just a cultural heritage of showing respect, except that it is really just a reminder of their unshakable status of authority. If you dare to question what they are teaching, instead of taking it as an opportunity to explain the subject further or to improve their teaching, they are more than likely to take it as a challenge to their authority. In contrast, I was so surprised when I first came to Canada to study and witnessed how students engage with the professor and compete to ask questions. It was interesting to me how that was not considered as a disrespect but a contribution to the learning process of everybody in the class, including the teachers. For the first time in my life, this made so much more sense to me than shying away from “confrontations” and avoiding “offending” the teachers.
Changes Are Coming
But the future is not all dark and positive changes are coming. For example, more and more educational institutions nowadays are realizing the problem with the testing system and are trying to change it as much as they can. Instead of using the College Entrance Examinations as the one-and-only metric for judging a student’s ability, some universities are conducting in-person interviews to find out about students’ overall development of their emotional intelligence, critical thinking abilities, and personal characteristics. They will still select students firstly based on their test scores, but when everything is equal, they take these factors into consideration.
I think this is a great start. Although universities can only do what is within their autonomy and there is only so much autonomy, something is still better than nothing at all. More importantly, changes take time and the fact that people are pushing for the changes is very encouraging.
I am explaining many things using the parenting style, the education system, and the cultural influences as examples because they were my primary experience prior to coming to Canada and are what I am most familiar with. However, they are just among many reasons of how potential Einstein’s in China are slowly being killed in the society. I do believe though, if parents are more mindful of cultivating their children’s decision-making abilities, if the education system places more emphasis on students’ real learning experience rather than the testing results, and if the culture gives credit to children who think differently and dare to speak their mind, we have a great chance of turning the whole situation around and raising children who are more and more independent, giving rise to intellectuals generation after generation.