Strange Event Today
T0day marks the halfway point of the semester here in China, so naturally, we all got together and voted on the “chinese star.” Basically, the chinese star is the person who we think so far has worked the hardest and deserves to be recognized for it. Ok, first let me give you a quick back story. Last week we watched this BCC documentary about the chinese schooling system. The underlying message of the movie is that being a student in china is no fun and tons of pressure (at least that is what I got out of it). In addition, public positive rewards for good behavior and public punishment (in the US this is called public humiliation) for bad behavior is quite common here within the education system. Take this kindergarden class the documentary focused on. These kids were learning the important value of taking good care of your things. First, the teacher picked out the most well behaved, top student to judge the quality of everyone eraser. This “best student” picked what she thought were the three erasers in the worst shape (these kids obviously did not know how to take care of their stuff). Then, these three kids were brought to the front of the class carrying their “bad” erasers and the teacher says to the class of 5 years olds, “ok class, by a show of hands, which student has the WORST eraser?” The vote comes in and one poor little boy, who by a vote of his peers, is the worst at taking care of this things, is left up in the front of the class. It’s not over yet, though. As if that isn’t punishment enough, he is forced to wear a the sweater labeled the “bad student sweater,” a ratty, old, torn up sweater that is equivalent to a dunce cap, reenact a dialogue with fellow students that talks about the importance of taking care of your things, and go around to EVERY other student and apologize to them individually. Not surprisingly, the kid goes back to his seat, humiliated and starts to cry. If that happened in America, this kid’s parents would be all over the school with law suits in a second. The teacher would probably get fired.
Our chinese star wasn’t this brutal, but it quickly became apparent that the goal of this voting process was not only to recognize the hardest worker, but to publicly illustrate every person’s individual standing or perceived diligence, among teachers and fellow classmates. Here is the scene. We are all gathered to come into a room and vote for who we think is the “chinese star.” Student’s votes count as 1 and teacher’s votes count as 3. We hand in our votes. Then, the votes are read aloud one by one. Students names are put up on the board, and votes are counted so it becomes immediately clear to everybody who people have voted for, and who they haven’t. I don’t think any of us really cared that much, but if you got no votes and everybody knows you got not votes, it can’t feel too good. These chinese teachers definitely did not realize just how chinese they were being. They probably all grew up with this kind of teaching / motivating method. Kinda brutal if you ask me. At least nobody had to wear the dunce sweater. Needless to say, the final message was “work harder and you too could be a chinese star,” which really meant “if you work harder people might think better of you next time! and we will ALL know!” Motivation fueled by public embarrassment and opinions of friends. So chinese. That being said, I doubt people will really change because of this (how hard working you are isn’t really what we care others think of us as), but if this happened in kindergarden DIFFERENT story entirely. For me, it just a little shocking and reflective of some cultural differences.