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My Educational Autobiography

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Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Television Schooling- Sesame Street, Barney, Disney, Thomas The Tank Engine, Mary Poppins

 Chapter 2: The First Day of School- Montessori School

Chapter 3: The Big Move to China- Crying in Chinese Local School

Chapter 4: The School Next to the Zoo- Rainbow Bridge International School

Chapter 4: The Carefree Elementary Years- Yew Chung International School

Chapter 5: The Bittersweet Years - Shanghai American School

            A Place Unlike My Own

Chapter 6: Untititled - Bryn Mawr College


A Place Unlike My Own

The Shanghai Migrant Worker School was very different from the campus I attended at Shanghai American School. Instead of the modern architecture with evenly trimmed bushes, metal gates, flowers and other vegetation which aesthetically enhanced the campus, this school was very simple and basic. I was a freshman in High school and it was my first day volunteering at the Migrant Worker School as an after school activity. My friends and peers all filed into the school, heads turning as we noticed the concrete buildings and sloppy white paint hastily plastered on the walls. There was no carpeting, no heating/cooling systems, no glass doors, and no playgrounds, only the bare necessities. The only facility they had was a basketball court, covered with cement, located behind the main buildings. All the corridors we walked through were open air even though it was winter and the cool air rushed into brush against our cheeks. We were in groups of two or three students; one by one the school directors led each of us into our assigned classroom. I remember walking in and seeing a sea of 2nd grade faces staring at me, all the desks were arranged in rows and all the students were sitting there in identical uniforms and little red scarves (red was a color that symbolized wealth, happiness and good fortune), . Their arms were neatly positioned one on top of the other. All their gazes were directed at their teacher, the center of authority, who was standing at the front of the classroom finishing up the lesson. When the teacher was finished she said good bye to the students and the students responded in unison, “Goodbye Teacher!”. It was synchronized and coordinated, clearly something they had rehearsed several times. Some of the students at the back appeared older than the rest, it seemed like they might have been held back a grade.

            My partner and I introduced ourselves and the next thing we tried to do was get the students to say introduce themselves in English. We wrote the phrase “my names is….” on the blackboard with chalk. Even the chalk was something I wasn’t used to because my school only used whiteboards and markers. I then gestured to the student sitting at the front of the row and asked “What is your name?”. To my surprise the student stood up with rigidly perfect posture before answering my question. I had forgotten that at local Chinese schools, all students had to stand up if they wanted to say something in class. They were different from the students at my school who didn’t have a dress code and were able to lean back on their chairs, slouch, and sometimes have their knees on the table. I told the student that she didn’t need to stand up every time she spoke when I was teaching. As we went down the row, all the students repeated the phrase and said their names. The problem was, it was almost impossible to remember all their names and it took quite some time when all fifty or so students got their chance to speak.

The Shanghai Migrant School used a traditional approach education whereas the international school I attended was much more progressive. The local school clearly had the type of class dynamics where the teacher was the dominant authoritative figure, and the agent where knowledge was communicated and rule of conduct enforced. Teachers at my school (Shanghai American School) were also people you listened to for knowledge and instruction, but the dynamics of the classroom were very different. Students weren’t encouraged to conform and be a collective, individualism was valued and important. Teachers at my school encouraged you to be self-expressive and pursue your dreams and desires. Personal experiences were not valued at the Migrant School and in a class with so many students it might not be as feasible either. How does the classroom embody an education method that emphasizes the “quality of experience” in a classroom with fifty students? In order to have the environment at my high school where class sizes wouldn’t exceed over 18-20 students; one would have to pay very high tuition fees. However the Chinese traditional method also had its strengths in producing very hardworking students.  It was a common understanding amongst the expatriate community that local Chinese students often excelled in mathematics and accelerated and advanced more quickly than the students at SAS. Chinese students are burdened with heavier workloads in elementary school and they are drilled into practicing mathematical concepts until they can do it in their sleep. What a traditional education doesn’t seem to foster is creativity and expression. Chinese movies are nowhere comparable to Hollywood blockbusters, which is probably why China has to ban certain American films until after the premier of a Chinese produced movie. They fear that movies like Skyfall might steal the box office sales of a domestically produced film. I feel that the more progressive approach to learning may only be more accessible to those that are privileged, such as the students who attend my high school. I feel as if American public schools in low-income communities would also use a more traditional approach to learning because the progressive approach seems to favor children from privileged families.