Do not listen to Teru Clavel. Save the childhood

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This text is part of: "I would never send my kids to school" by Piotr Wozniak (2017)

Teru Clavel story

Teru Clavel glorifies all the bad things about school that I criticize in "Problem of schooling".

She is an intelligent lady with a charming smile. She enrolled her beautiful kids in a number of schools in Asia (Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo, 2-4 years at a time), and then in Palo Alto. The kids speak three languages, and tested 2 years ahead of their peers in math on arrival to the US. I am not surprised Teru believes she found the magic formula for education. However, her prescriptions are tainted with the error of projection, and inaccurate generalization.

There is no way an average kid in the US could compete well in a test with smart kids raised by a Tiger Mom with ambitions that few parents could meet. In the same way a kid from Kenya with athlete parents obsessed with achievement would probably leave his competition in dust in distance running. This does not mean that all kids should follow those Asian or Kenyan prescriptions. As explained in Mythology that keeps the archaic school system alive, that Keynan prescription, instead of producing elite runners would more likely result in a heart attack or two.

Teru Clavel errors

Clavel's list of prescriptive errors in endless. The most glaring problems are:

Instead of proposing a formula for more intelligent children, Clavel is cooking up more misery for young folks who will be expected to live up to a new level of expectations. Do we really want to follow the example of Japan that gave birth to the concept of hikikomori?

Clavel summarized her ideas in a recent appearance on Zakaria's GPS. Zakaria put a stamp of approval on the message (using PISA as a yardstick that proves Asian superiority). I keep praising Fareed Zakaria, but each time he shows up on my pages, it is in the context of his glorification of schooling. Zakaria worked hard, and succeeded. This makes him project and believe that hard work is the formula for success in education. The opposite is true, pleasure of learning is the best pathway towards a happy and a highly intelligent problem solving mind.

Flawed comparative studies

Teru Clavel got an online degree in comparative international education, which should make her pretty qualified to make statements about different education systems. Indeed, her comparisons are highly educational, however, they are missing the most important ingredient: the understanding of the efficient learning process. Without that vital ingredient, all comparisons are tainted by a wrong verdict, and a biased commentary.

Teru Clavel comparative description of schools is highly educational. However, her ultimate verdict is the exact opposite of what good learning should be

Glorification of school prison

I have always felt some attraction to monastic life. It seems like a chance to perfectly focus on great things while neglecting the chaos of the modern world. However, I would never think of imposing that life on anybody. Teru seems to take the attraction to a new level. Her vision is like monastic schooling for all children (source):

I enrolled my oldest at the time, who was just three years old, at a local public magnet school that was nicknamed the prison. [...] I thought this is an experience where he’ll actually learn Mandarin and be able to focus on what's important, which isn't the bells and whistles, the brand-new desks or chairs or smart board. It looked like a prison. It was on this concrete hill. Literally, the hill was made of concrete. It was this foreboding structure with this courtyard that looked like it’s where prisoners are released to walk around. There was barbed wire on the roof. It was so magical in the sense that the teachers were so on top of the learning. Starting at three years old, the kids had homework. [...] It got them into this habit of starting homework at a really young age. I'd say that was the first thing in terms of where the money is going

Belief in mindless mass production

Clavel clearly believes that it is possible to mass produce identical brains via imitation. All we need is a prison of school, and a good assembly line:

There are plenty of studies to show you don't even need a physical classroom. You don't even need fifteen kids in the classroom. We can have thirty if the teacher is really, really qualified

Rescue from Prof. Yong Zhao

For anyone interested in the true picture of Asian education, the best place to go is Prof. Yong Zhao website. The site is authoritative and rich in accurate and objective analyses.

In this Valerie Strauss column in Washington Post, Zhao takes a critical look at another recommendation from another American mother with a child in a Chinese education system:

Using threats as motivational tool is common in Chinese education. Chu calls the Chinese “world-class experts at fear-based motivation.” It works but it can have serious consequences. Rainey became afraid. He once asked his father if he’d be taken away by the police if he did not take a nap because the teacher in school threatened that if he did not nap as required, the police would take him away

In his verdict Zhao is remarkably polite:

As much as I enjoyed the book and admired Chu’s courage for sending her son to a Chinese school, I don’t see an authoritarian and rigid education as meritorious. As someone who has experienced both Chinese and American education as a student and teacher and an educational researcher for nearly three decades, I have learned that such a system results in unproductive successes — outcomes that appear appealing in the short term but result in long term irreparable damages

The side effects Zhao has in mind are:

Zhao summarizes the Chinese system with a quote from his book:

The Chinese education is extremely effective, perhaps the best in the world, in producing homogeneous, compliant, and hard-working people. At the same time, the system fails miserably at cultivating a diverse, creative, independent-thinking, and inventive citizenry

I agree with the professor:

Do not listen to Teru Clavel. Save your child from misery

Further reading

To understand how drastically my thinking differs from Clavel's see:

For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru