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Homework at the Barricades

This is a blog about teaching and learning, where political comments on the current demonstrations in Hong Kong would be out of place. Nonetheless, among the images coming from the crowded streets, one kind stands out as due some notice here. I mean pictures of students sitting in the occupied roadways doing their homework.

In general Hong Kong is a very tidy and orderly place. Construction and other disruptions are accompanied by apologies “for the inconvenience caused.” People riding escalators stand to one side so that people who wish to step along may do so on the other side. People whose dogs do their business on the sidewalk carry away the business in a plastic bag or wash it away with a squirt bottle. The New Year’s Eve crowds on the Kowloon Waterfront are almost entirely free of fighting, staggering, and vomiting;  when the midnight fireworks are over, the crowd contentedly disperses, families and all, usually without incident.

So it should be no surprise that young demonstrators here remain mindful of their obligations as students while they are on the streets. For all that I was fascinated by Bill Buford’s book Among the Thugs, in which he did a journalistic report on his fieldwork among British soccer hooligans, Hong Kong seems to work counter to the crowd-dynamic he reported.

This state of things should give pause—though it probably won’t—to the proponents of “value”-“added” “metrics” that attribute solely to teachers all the “praise” and “blame” for students’ success or failure on standardized tests of their learning. No matter who is doing the teaching, in places where students would rather die than not turn in their homework, the scores will be higher than in places where they would not be caught dead turning in their homework.

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