|San-Min Elementary School|
|Dust pans and brooms in hand, sweeping the front of the school.|
|The bell had just rung so they're running to class. Cute, cute.|
|4th graders taking a midday snooze.|
There is, however, a dark knight esoterically lurking in the shadows of this public education dream world where children magically perform well on tests while being allotted adequate time to enjoy their childhood, as well as teachers being paid well and respected... the buxiban. (Also known as the cram school or directly translated "make-up class" or "catch up class".) Roughly half of my little ones attend some sort of tutorial class after public school hours, with that percentage increasing as children get older. Students may focus on math, science, computer skills, English, other foreign languages, or exam preparation. This is perpetuated by a meritocratic culture that measures merit through testing, with entrance into high school, college, graduate school, and government service decided entirely on test scores. These classes are used to supplement their regular education in light of the intense pressure placed on students to achieve. Students begin taking midterms and final exams beginning in the first grade. Depending on the number of classes a child's parent deems necessary (or can afford), a student's school day could last until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. On top of being an arduous schedule for a small child to endure, the system creates an enormous discrepancy in ability when they come together in one public school classroom. The children from more privileged families (those that are able to afford the best buxiban courses) rising to the top, while the commonality are left playing catch up.
|Buxiban in Kaohsiung.|
Don't get me wrong... I'm not one to sing the praises of Taiwan's education system, nor the current system in the United States. After all, the state of public education in America is part of the reason why I'm teaching in Taiwan in the first place. Those who know me well would probably agree that with many issues I could finish the sentence, "Well if I was Queen of the World..." fairly easily. This is no such case, although I do believe that the basis of some Taiwanese educational ideals can be seen in current reforms in the United States. With a heavier emphasis placed on testing, and funding plummeting as each American school year passes I can't help but to wonder... are we inching further towards a nation placing emphasis on the private education sector, furthering the separation of the upper and middle/lower classes? Is the free education provided in the U.S. enough? Or will we eventually resort to a supplementary "buxiban system" to further pressure children to achieve higher on that ever present, dark cloud lingering over every classroom in America?
I would like to end with a story... when I was in the third grade, I had THE teacher. Everyone has one... it's that one teacher that has such a profound impact that you carry them in your heart for a lifetime. She told us stories about growing up on a farm, and she would read aloud the Little House on the Prairie books, which initially sparked my interest in history eventually leading me to pursue it as my major in college. One day we were learning about the Italian Renaissance and all the fantastic painters during that time. We learned about the brilliance of Michelangelo and the four years he spent laying on his back on giant scaffolding painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, permanently damaging his eye sight as a consequence to his great achievement. My teacher distributed pieces of construction paper, and instructed us to tape the paper to the bottom of our desks. We laid on the floor under our desks for quite some time with a pencil and watercolors attempting to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel just like Michelangelo. Being one that struggles artistically in general, I found the task compellingly difficult. After that day, I knew I had to see the Sistine Chapel someday for myself. At twenty-two as I ascended the steps of the Chapel in Vatican City, finally living my dream created by my eight-year-old self, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Becky Upsahl, was on my mind. That, my friends, is learning. In the third grade I couldn't tell you what year he began painting or when he died, but I did experience a piece of his hardships, realizing his unique talents which stayed with me into my adult years. That type of deep-rooted influence can not be translated on a standardized assessment.
|Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel|