A Day in the Life beyond Testing

Today (a Saturday) I went to the school office to leave a message with one of the clerks. Seated at another clerical cubicle was one of the deans or assistant headmasters. Because the two clerks were otherwise engaged, he was putting the finishing touches on a handout notifying 7th-graders of an optional weekend course. The subject is classical Chinese. I asked him whether they might be studying poets like Du Fu and Li Bai (8th Century), to which he smiled and replied, ‘Much older: it will go back to the origins of the Chinese character.” He went on to tell me why learning Chinese characters is not as hard as ‘some people’ think it is: “Everything depends on how they are taught.”

Outdoors the stalls and pavilions are going up for the “Garden Fête,” a well-attended annual fund-raising event. In the two covered playgrounds, table tennis tables have been pushed aside, and students are busily working at getting signs and other materials ready for their grades’ and clubs’ stalls, which will be set up tomorrow morning.

Outside one of the covered playgrounds the school’s Boy Scout troop was putting itself through the finishing touches of close-order drill, accompanied by snare drum, that they will have needed to master by tomorrow, when they proceed with a poppy wreath from the school’s chapel to a memorial to graduates who died fighting Japan in World War II. (The school housed Japanese soldiers instead of students during the war.) They lay the wreath at the memorial tablet.

As the Scouts paraded, students from the Drama Committee [club] came out of the Drama Store Room to watch. They were working on one of the year’s dramatic productions and getting ready to sell DVDs of last year’s productions at the Fête. The rehearsals of the school’s musical groups, which are usually conducted on weekends as well as school days, are canceled this weekend.

During the week the boys publishing the IB Herald picked up our print run, also to be sold at the Fête, and presented a copy to the IB Coordinator. We finished working up the sales schedule, and among today’s off-campus errands I went to get change in case the vendors need to make it. (Some, but by no means all, of the Fête’s visitors say, ‘Keep the change” when paying for things.

My other group of visitors during the week was IB students beginning the 4,000-word Extended Essay that they will need to turn in at this time next year. Most are in English, but one will be in film.

I mention all these things because earlier this week I read a review of a book condemning China’s education as being obsessed by exams and place-hunting. I wouldn’t deny that Chinese students want to do well on their exams, but I do suggest, and have tried to show, that other kinds of activity characterize Chinese students too. Where I agree with the reviewer is in the dim view we take of the test-mania that is sweeping across the U.S., which will be certain to end up producing the worst of both worlds. President Kennedy is supposed to have said that Washington DC combined Southern efficiency and Northern charm. What would he say of Duncan’s Dream?


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