Last days in Shanghai before the next days in Shanghai


by Larry Moneta

Our last full day in Shanghai was a full one and extraordinarily illuminating as well as delightful. After breakfast (always extensive buffets…with cereal, fruit and bread as my selection), we bussed through the ever trying traffic to Shanghai Normal University (SNU). SNU isn’t extraordinarily distinctive overall but its one key contribution is that 70% of all the teachers in Shanghai (and trust me…there are a lot of teachers!) are SNU graduates. Thus, they lead the research and teacher preparation plans for Shanghai’s k-12 system. We had an extensive briefing on Shanghai’s extraordinary success with math, reading and science education for their youth (as measured by PISA and reported extensively in the NYT…look it up. US performance is frighteningly low) but the presenter acknowledged shortcomings in teacher-student relationships at which US schools excel.

From there (after a Chinese lunch) we drove another hour (all within the ‘downtown’) to an elementary school of 800 children. All I can say is…wow! The kids were amazing – confident, engaged, jubilant and eager to meet us. We watched them learn speed skating, build robots, learn in formal classrooms, grow vegetables and herbs on their roof deck, use their extensive library and, the highlight of the trip…sing various versions on Jingle Bells to us. I can’t post the video of their singing from here, but will add it when I get home. Make a point of coming back to check this out….it can’t help but make you smile, tear up and realize how much we have to do in the US to keep up. This was an experimental (but ‘public’) school, but others from our group who have visited more conventional schools told us this was not very different from what they’ve seen elsewhere.

Then we moved on to a middle school about to celebrate its one hundred year anniversary. It has 1000 students and was housed in a building that looked pretty much like any somewhat ‘industrial’ school building – not dissimilar from a US inner city school building. There we had a more formal presentation in an auditorium while we awaited the Asst. Principal’s return from a city school board meeting. Interestingly, she is also the Communist Party chair for the area.

The highlight of this visit was sitting in on a class taught by a science teacher. This wonderful teacher normally teaches in Chinese but realized that her kids excelled in their science education but had poor English language skills. So, once a week, she teaches her class entirely in English…and this was that day. She used technology creatively (suffice it to say that we were all dancing Gangham at the end of the class), engaged the kids and pushed them to advance their English conversational skills. Again, we’ve got to press our kids more to have other languages at their disposal, imho.

Finally, after dinner back at Shanghai University (those fantastic boxes again), we enjoyed a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra at the school’s theater. Those who know me know my aversion to classical music, but other than the struggle to stay awake, the difficulty breathing because of the cigarette smoking, it wasn’t bad.

Now, I’m in Beijing…we flew here yesterday and visited the Lama Temple right from the airport. We leaned about the three forms of Buddhism and enjoyed this remarkable temple. The only mishap was my dropping my camera…oh, well. Shopping!

After the temple, we went to the Hanban-Confucious center (our hosts) and learned more about their mission and Chinese culture.

Last night, I skipped out of the buffet dinner at our hotel and met up with Duke alumnus and Young Trustee, Kaveh Danesh, who treated me to a fantastic dinner at an all vegan restaurant near the Peking University area of Beijing. We both agreed that the food was fantastic and that it would be very hard for a meat eater to know that our Peking Duck was faux duck. The best part of the night though was catching up with Kaveh and learning about his life here in Beijing as a Fulbrighter. He’s an amazing young man doing research on cancer by studying population centers with larger number of cases than the norm. He’s also fluent in Chinese (thank goodness) and just the most delightful person to ‘hang’ with.

Now…getting ready for a final visit to Peking University for discussions and the closing banquet. I’m supposed to fly to Wuhan tomorrow for meetings there….but there are schedule ‘complications’ apparently from Wuhan. Hmmm….stay tuned.