Friday, June 29, 2012

Cultural ponderings

Chinese culture has been swirling in my mind lately, and not necessarily in a good way. More of a "13 years and I still don't get it" kind of way. Last week you might have seen the graphic pictures of a woman who was forced to have an abortion here. What you might not have heard is the backlash from the local government against her family, who have had to go into hiding, because they posted that. I wonder at the injustice of it.

Closer to home, some friends of ours with three small children recently had an incident at a local fast food place. Their youngest was being bullied by a local boy (who was terrorizing all the kids in the play area). Since no parent was stepping in to stop the abuse, our friend finally pulled the boy aside and told him it was inappropriate. In flew the mother of the child, screaming that her son would be psychologically traumatized from the reprimand. They tried to leave, but the woman grabbed their daughter and refused to let go until the police came. Our friend spent 7 hours at the police station where, although the local police sided with him, he was finally forced to pay 1,000Y to the family so their son could have psychological testing. What? Insanity.

So this morning I sat with my oldest Chinese friend here and we discussed these things. She said, "We Chinese parents, in that situation, would just pull our child out of the play area because we know that other children are being raised to be the aggressors. It's really hard to find kids for my son to play with because they are all this way. They are aggressive children being raised by aggressive parents."

She is a professor at a local university, and this summer she will be hosting a group of 30 students checking into graduate schools in California. Their university actually makes money off these trips by charging the parents over $5,000 per student. Who in China can afford this we wonder? Apparently at least 30 sets of parents! She said most of the students don't care about seeing most of the universities - they'd rather shop! More of mom and dad's hard earned money out the window.

She sees her job as an English teacher slowly becoming more obsolete. The students are coming to university with such excellent English she is hardly needed. Only one semester of English is compulsory. So what could she do instead?

She's actually thinking of helping to develop the homeschool movement here in China. She would love to homeschool her son, but she's afraid that without a formal structure that affirms homeschooling, he might not be able to attend university here. She would love for China to give formal permission for parents to homeschool, but she wonders if it would be a license for rural people to keep their kids at home in order to use them for labor. It's exciting to see her wrestle with these issues, and I hope for her sake that homeschooling becomes a possibility.

Why? Well, because she described her son's school to me, and it once again made me thank God that I never chose to put my kids in local schools (I know there are some great schools out there, but this is an example of a pretty typical school). Her son is in a class of 40 first graders. His is one of nine 1st grade classes in the school. They have exams next weeks. They'll take a practice exam, be given results, then given an opportunity to take essentially the same test again. There is competition between the nine classes for the highest scores, and between their school and others. Sound at all familiar?

She was called in after school recently to talk to her son's teacher, or rather, to be lectured by her son's teacher. For five minutes, in front of other parents whose children have been performing sub par, she was reprimanded about the serious situation with her son's math abilities. She said, "To this day, I don't know what it is he's doing wrong. Maybe writing sloppy?" but she just laughed it off.

All this just goes to show me that you're never done learning about a culture. I find it all fascinating and a little baffling.

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