The Human Scale of China

I began packing for a morning flight from Nanjing. I’d spent the day sitting, talking with colleagues, writing reports, then a banquet—all enjoyable, all productive, but distressingly sedentary. I needed to get out. Continue reading

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A Raucous Dinner

Between a conference in Hong Kong and meetings in Nanjing, I realized I could head for Guangzhou. In two decades of traveling to China, I’ve never been there, partially I suspect because of its intimidating culinary reputation that sits large in the world. Snakes and other unsavory critters are standard fare. Pick out a snake in the window and have it cooked for you. Yeah, well I didn’t see one in Guangzhou. I’m sure there are some, but they aren’t the main item of everyday cooking. What is it about us westerners—or at least North Americans—that needs to stress the bizarre?

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Back Streets, Hot Sweet Potatoes, and Finding China

Street in NanjingEvery trip to China I try to steal time to walk the streets and alleys. I plot the area to wander in, often not far from my lodging, and head out, a map tucked in my bag and a hotel name card in my pocket. Both are essential.

I often turn down the nearest small street, trying to gauge its direction. Running at haphazard angles to main streets, they lead me into neighborhoods veined with networks of smaller lanes and alleys, all begging to be explored. Recently in Nanjing I wandered down tree-lined streets, past a pocket park with yellow and Continue reading

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Winter in China, 1990

The Los Angeles temperature hit 32 last night, and although, for many of you, that’s hardly chilly, for us spoiled Californians, it is cold—partially because we don’t own coats. But it also reminded me of my first trip to China and this letter I sent home.

January 13, 1990. We were warned that it would be cold in China—especially inside—but little did we know what that meant. Not even a year in Scotland in a drafty flat with no central heating prepared me for this. But tonight I was better prepared for the dinner we went to. Continue reading

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Yetta Goodman Endorsement

I am very pleased to share an endorsement received from dedicated educator and internationally known professor, Yetta Goodman. She has studied literacy development in many cultures and provided literacy researchers with valuable insights about how children become successful readers and writers.

Nancy Pine in Educating Young Giants: What Kids Learn (And Don’t Learn) in China and America provides a marvelous tapestry of experiences through which to experience teaching Continue reading

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A 60-Year-Old Insight

Written after the devastation of World War II, the young women graduating from The Dominican College of San Rafael in California devoted energy and imagination to creating Map of Chinaa book dedicated to understanding China. Over 60 years ago, they introduced their work with the following words, still relevant today:

 Never again can we feel secure within the boundaries of our two oceans. It is a small world and the peoples in it will and must learn to know each other better, to understand each other better than they have in the past. We Americans do not possess the only way of Continue reading

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Deborah Meier Lauds Educating Young Giant

Deb Meier, Founder of Small Schools Movement & MacArthur Fellow

In her widely distributed Education Week dialogue with Diane Ravitch about their very different views of schooling and how to give children the learning opportunities they deserve, Deborah Meier wrote recently ~

I wish I had read Nancy Pine’s Educating Young Giants, What Kids Learn (And Don’t Learn) in China and America before I went to China in 2007! It’s a thoughtful and thorough account that starts with classrooms in both nations that come alive in her telling.

Meier is often considered the founder of the modern small schools movement, is a Continue reading

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Middle School Reality in China

For several years I have been observing in the classrooms of a friend’s son—first in elementary school and most recently in his first year of middle school. Zheng Zheng heartily disliked elementary school. He would tell me at length about why lessons and his homework were boring, boring, boring. He hated the memorization and repetition, but also the pressure of competition with those students who are aiming for the very highest scores on tests and exams. He did the work he needed to do, but he seemed much more interested in building complex structures with Legos and experimenting with how to grow potatoes in pots propped on the ledge outside his parents’ bedroom window.

But junior high school is different. Not only does he like his more student-centered

Zheng Zheng math class

Zheng Zheng and others attempting to solve algebraic puzzle

teachers better, but significantly, the highest achieving students have been skimmed off to a different class. This leaves him among students who are still competitive, but not to such an exacting degree of perfection. When I last visited, I spent time in Zheng Zheng’s math and biology classes. (I selected the classes to observe when I arrived at the school; they were not preselected and practiced ahead of time.) There were twice as many students in a class than he had had in elementary school, but the atmosphere seemed more congenial, the pace less relentless. The teachers kept a steady rhythm with high expectations, and as usual, students needed to be completely prepared.

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The Rhythm of China

At my recent book launch, I was asked what, after all these years of traveling to China, do I first notice when I arrive there. That stopped me for a bit. But then it became clear to me. As soon as I’ve checked into my lodging, I head for the streets–whether in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Xi’an, or farther flung places. Day or night, I walk for blocks and blocks.

Beijingers enjoying a sunny day

Adjusting my pace to China’s, I slow my quick, tense American stride. I move with the flow of pedestrians, look in shop windows, navigate intersections, and listen. Stores selling CDs and DVDs pipe loud music into the streets—sounding to me like romantic modern pop. Vendors peddle by calling their ancient cries of services rendered.

In late evening, my favorite time, pedestrians gather around sidewalk grills and small restaurants for meat on skewers or noodles salted with red-hot sauce, squinting through the smoke of the grill or squatting at the edge of the sidewalk relishing the noodles and chatting. But most of all, I soak up the sound of thousands of people talking to each other in Chinese. As I walk, the river of sound, rising and falling in cadences so different from English or Spanish, captivates me and carries me along. It pulls me away from the long flight and hectic trip preparations and draws me into China.

Finally saturated, I head back to my room to hook up my computer, call friends and colleagues to let them know I’ve arrived, and get ready for days of meetings, interviews, and classroom visits. But those first hours of walking have gotten me ready.

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Endorsement from Karen Worth

1990 First Grade Class, ChinaA recent endorsement from Karen Worth, an internationally known science educator at Wheelock College in the Department of Elementary Education.  She is planning to use the Educating Young Giants: What Kids Learn (And Don’t Learn) in China and America in courses for beginning teachers.

“This is quite a remarkable book that should be required reading for students preparing to become teachers, for practicing teachers, and also for educational leaders and policy makers engaged in educational reform. The author, Nancy Pine, brings her extensive experiences in education in the US and China to the comparison of teaching and learning in these two countries. But this is not a standard academic study or a simple contrast and therein lies its strength. Nancy is a skillful writer and has used detailed colorful descriptions of her many observations of classrooms and conversations with educators to allow us to see what she saw and hear what she heard. In a strikingly unbiased and non-judgmental way, she reflects on these stories drawing from the literature and her deep knowledge of the history and cultures of both countries to deepen her own understanding and enrich ours.”

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