Monday, January 11, 2016

Western holism vs. Asian individualism

Time to catch up on some of the the education news that's arisen since my last post. From a December 26th article in the Times:

This fall, David Aderhold, the superintendent of a high-achieving school district near Princeton, N.J., sent parents an alarming 16-page letter. 
The school district, he said, was facing a crisis. Its students were overburdened and stressed out, juggling too much work and too many demands. 
In the previous school year, 120 middle and high school students were recommended for mental health assessments; 40 were hospitalized. And on a survey administered by the district, students wrote things like, “I hate going to school,” and “Coming out of 12 years in this district, I have learned one thing: that a grade, a percentage or even a point is to be valued over anything else.”
Aderhold's solution?

1. Elimination of busywork assignments and sprawling interdisciplinary projects?
2. Elimination of mandatory group activities and toxic social pressures?
3. Tailoring class placements to academic readiness and assigning each student appropriately challenging work?
4. Increasing recess?

None of the above. Instead, Aderhold
urged parents to join him in advocating a holistic, “whole child” approach to schooling that respects “social-emotional development” and “deep and meaningful learning” over academics alone.
Surely such an approach wouldn't actually increase student stress!

In a curious reversal of one set of cultural stereotypes, not all parents are pleased:
instead of bringing families together, Dr. Aderhold’s letter revealed a fissure in the district, which has 9,700 students, and one that broke down roughly along racial lines. On one side are white parents like Catherine Foley, a former president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at her daughter’s middle school, who has come to see the district’s increasingly pressured atmosphere as antithetical to learning.
On the other side are parents like Mike Jia, one of the thousands of Asian-American professionals who have moved to the district in the past decade, who said Dr. Aderhold’s reforms would amount to a “dumbing down” of his children’s education.
This second contingent has recently become a majority in the school district:
The district has become increasingly popular with immigrant families from China, India and Korea. This year, 65 percent of its students are Asian-American, compared with 44 percent in 2007. Many of them are the first in their families born in the United States.
They have had a growing influence on the district. Asian-American parents are enthusiastic supporters of the competitive instrumental music program. They have been huge supporters of the district’s advanced mathematics program…
But an American-born backlash, led by the principal, has been erasing some of the Asian influence. There's the: “right to squeak” initiative "that makes it easier to participate in the music program." And the competitive math program, which once began in the fourth grade, and "in which 90 percent of the participating students are Asian-American," will now start only in sixth grade.  In addition, Dr. Aderhold is limiting participation in a state program in which "Asian-American students have been avid participants" that "permits [students] to take summer classes off campus for high school credit, allowing them to maximize the number of honors and Advanced Placement classes they can take."

Some "white parents" have worried that
With many Asian-American children attending supplemental instructional programs... the elementary school curriculum is being sped up to accommodate them.
They also worry about
rampant cheating, grade fixation and days so stressful that some students could not wait for them to end.
Other parents, "primarily Asian-American ones"
 described a different picture, one in which their values were being ignored.
Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at UC Irvine and an author of “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” points out that Asian-born parents “don’t have the same chances to get their children internships or jobs at law firms." For them, the best chances come from excelling academically.

As should be the case for everyone.  If I had a choice between a school led by David Aderhold and one led by some of the Asian-American activists featured in this article, I'm pretty sure which one I'd pick.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

'But an American-born backlash, led by the principal, has been erasing some of the Asian influence. There's the: “right to squeak” initiative "that makes it easier to participate in the music program."'

Dumbing down is right. At my (small-town) grade school we had a very high quality concert band starting in 5th grade. We damn well didn't squeak.

We were about 95% white and 5% black. I don't remember any Asians.

Anonymous said...

Let's split the difference: start the accelerated math in 4th, but be sure to have music opportunities for students who are just beginning/don't practice 2 hours a day.

lgm said...

Music has been a war of the haves and have-nots here. It comes down to family culture....you support your child and encourage self discipline, or you dont. Some want accolades without practice, and are willing to do the Tonya Harding manuever to get it or to cut the whole program so the non-good old boys wont succeed.
Music in the schools isnt considered an asian influence here.its church families, jewish, indian, and asian that are serious about developing self-discipline and progressing. Good old boys want the who you know, not what you know to reign. No orchestra in their schools.

FedUpMom said...

I disagree with you here. Some kids don't respond well to high-pressure environments. I've got two such kids myself. Asian-style schools would be a complete disaster for them.

There is no "one size fits all" in education. If some folks want a high-pressure environment, they're welcome to it, but there should be an alternative for kids who need it.

Katharine Beals said...

Yes, choice is key. How about two music programs, one open to all and one competitive? And, sure, those who want "whole child" should have that choice. I suspect, however, that Superintendent Aderhold's version of whole-child education will result in more pressure for many kids: pressure of a more toxic, less productive variety--the more so if they enter college less academically prepared than their peers. Nor is a non-"whole child," academically focused school necessarily high pressure, particularly if the school places children appropriately (i.e., not "one size fits all" based on calendar age) and teaches them at their different readiness levels.

FedUpMom said...

If you can find a school with high academic standards but low pressure, let me know. Sounds great.

As usual, most of what actually goes on is the worst of both worlds; low academic standards but unaccountably high pressure. The resulting mental health problems are very real and very damaging.

FedUpMom said...

In fact, I think my local "high-achieving" schools don't know what high academic standards look like, so they substitute pressure to prove how serious they are.

lgm said...

Local 'high achieving' means only one level above Regents, and the majority doesnt want to include an AP/IB level...so we have honors and DE from the CC. No one has been admitted to MIT since AP/IB was cancelled.

NY has no virtual AP Courses that can be taken without the zoned district paying. Districts such as mine do not participate, and do not offer summer courses at that level. So, no influx of high aspiring families. We will be selling to private schoolers when we move.