Yesterday I "went" to a presentation given by a clinical psychiatrist, Justin Chen, from Mass General Hospital on supporting international students in the classroom. In this climate of Asian hate and overall insensitivity, I've been to several of these talks recently. I suppose it is good that we can discuss these topics openly, and as usual- a lot of people are shocked to see that Asians have been getting bullied and targeted for racially motivated hate since we are after all "the model minority"
But aside from the racial aspects of the lecture, what I noticed was the different educational system starting at an early age between the East and West. The glaring difference between the two when seen from this image: the stark difference between the kindergarten classroom in the US verses Japan.
The US classroom is literally a chaos of colors, shapes, and randomness. It is hard for any child to land their focus on any one thing for too long. I remember when I was 4 or 5 years old attending school in Japan, we had to wipe down the floor with a wet rag every morning in unison before our day began. This was not only for the purpose of getting the room ready for the day and cleanliness, but also gives the children a bit of stretching exercise and a sense of ownership of the space.
In opposition to that mentality, I remember the first time I stepped foot into the large cafeteria space where my son was in kindergarten at PS150. I was there at the end of the day to pick him up. He was going to an afterschool program for an extra hour or so, and basically the children were all housed in a large unruly loud echo chamber. I recall the shock of how dirty and disgusting the space was. I saw children eating oreos and just throwing the trash on the floor without any consequence.
And I think about the quote "with freedom comes responsibility". At the age of 4 or 5, if you give children too much freedom, what the hell do adults think they will do with that freedom? I look at the images of two different style classrooms and wonder what is the rate of ADD in Asian countries? Do they keep such records? Looking at the way a child is educated in this country, I think that it's not a shock that so many children in this country have deficiencies focusing on anything for too long. They were never taught to focus from an early age.
Children need to be taught EVERYTHING. Sure they discover things on their own, and that is great, but as adults and educators, you need to facilitate that discovery, not have it as a free for all. Our son started getting an allowance of (something like) $1 per week at an early age. I gave our son a wallet as a Christmas present so he would have a place to put the money when we went shopping. (A reason for doing this was not only to teach him the value of money but to stop him from pestering us when we were at the grocery store. If he realized that he had to buy junk with his own money, he stopped begging us for everything he passed in every aisle). Anyway, back to having to teach children everything: The first time we went shopping together after he received his wallet, I noticed he had a huge bulge in his coat pocket, and I asked him what he had in there.
"my wallet" was his reply.
Anything else? toys?
"no, just my wallet"
"can I see it? how much money have you saved up that you've got such a wad in your pocket?"
And when he produced his new wallet and opened it, I saw that he had balled up each dollar bill and had tossed them into the pocket of the billfold, instead of having the the money nicely flattened and folded. It took me about 5 minutes to show him how he was supposed to use a wallet.
The Japanese classroom image may seem a shock to the non-teacher centered classroom of the west, where 4 year olds call their teachers Sarah instead of Ms. Durer. But the order, hierarchy and organization gives teachers less work. They don't have to teach the children where to look and focus every second of the day. No wonder the elementary school teachers in this country are exhausted.
I agree that the Japanese classroom may feel a bit stifling to children's creativity and communication skills, as they are seemingly in a situation where they are being lectured to, instead of interacting with the content (active learning). But there must be a middle ground between these two classrooms.