When I heard that Yong Zhao would be speaking at ASCD I was excited, having just read his interview in the latest issue of the Kappan. I had read his blog posts previously and was interested in his view of American Education as innovative.
I think, unfortunately, many American educators allow themselves to remain isolated within their own district, state, or region. Some even seldom go beyond the classroom walls for new information. Zhao’s perspective is dually Chinese and American, as a student who grew up in Sichuan Province and came to Chicago for his graduate education. His perspective offers something every educator should seek out: diversity.
I’m sure the term has different meaning for each of you reading this, but if there’s one thing I know cripples innovation, it’s isolation and the routine of sameness many of us experience day-in and day-out. Zhao’s research is extensive in many areas, but one of the most interesting is in the use of gaming for learning. He helped to create a massively-multiplayer environment for students learning Mandarin; the concept alone is interesting, but his results are impressive.
His session reflects the work in his latest book, Catching Up or Leading the Way: Education in the Age of Globalization. The gist of his speech was that the American education system is not falling behind places like China and India, but rather is far ahead in terms of its ability to produce individuals. You can’t export the ability to innovate as easily as you can core knowledge like calculus.
China may be very good at turning out good test-takers, scientists, and mathematicians, but Zhao says there is a lack of thought there. The thing that American schools do well (at least before NCLB) is cultivate creativity.
You can see my tweets and others about Yong Zhao’s session by following the #ZHAO tag on Twitter
You can listen to some audio recorded when I approached Yong after his session:
I started recording the audio while an administrator from Indiana was asking his question about assessment policy. You’ll hear me start my question about a minute in.
I feel as though I have more to say on the subject (I haven’t even dug into my session notes!), but ASCD is so full of things I don’t want to miss. More to come…