Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon Blogs from Education Trip to China

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon Blogs from Education Trip to China

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, SESP professor and director of the Master of Science in Education program, traveled to China to make presentations at Fudan University and Fudan College, East China Normal University, and Shanghai Normal University, all in Shanghai.

January 3, 2011 - Shanghai

Well, I made it with no difficulty. I tried to take a picture of the yellow smog as we descended, but it didn't capture the impact! I asked the greeters if it was "bad weather today" and the reply: "Pollution!” So conjure up your stereotype and you hit it pretty much on the money! Today I give my first lecture -- this one to 80 pre-service teacher candidates at Shanghai Normal University.

shanghai street
January 4, 2011 - Shanghai

Greetings from Shanghai on day #2.

My day at Shanghai Normal began with a beautiful lunch -- I especially love the tiny boiled shrimp and cucumber. An orange glass contained pumpkin, and the meal also included black mushrooms and edamame, as well as slices of beef (looks like pork) and several kinds of fish. There was much more on the table! We then walked around the campus -- you see a typical building and some unusual branching trees all set for the winter months. The students are filing into my lecture -- there were about 80 of them, and I showed them an interpretive discussion, which seemed to interest them. I am pictured with the graduate student, Fiona, who found me on the Internet and helped to arranged the lecture. It was a lovely day.

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon in Shanghai
Did the students understand the lecture? Fiona, whose English is excellent, said that she grasped "90 percent." Two in the audience asked questions. They laughed at the story of the "Unruly Wife" and at some of the things children said in the interpretive discussion of it (video I showed). I tried to speak slowly. It was a fascinating experience for me, and some came up to talk afterwards. Still, it was a challenge for them, I think. Hope they got something!

January 7, 2011 - Shanghai

Greetings to you after a most memorable day #3 in China. The tall building that you see below is the site of this conference on philosophy of education and educational research in China. There are about 30 scholars and their guests from the US and around China, many but not all of them philosophers, so about 50 people in the room (I counted the house, as I have been taught to do by my husband!).

shanghai building
Funded by the Spencer Foundation, they have come together to think about the educational issues that China is facing today. I found it absolutely fascinating to hear about the transitions of all sorts that this vast country is making. Education is a central concern, and while the rest of the world envies China's #1 PISA scores (international tests of reading and mathematics), most of these Chinese speakers bemoan the lack of creativity in their students, especially as they seem them in college. In that context, I presented a paper on teaching people to listen, as it occurs through participation in interpretive discussion. The paper had been translated, so today I had the sense that more were grasping the English than was the case when I spoke yesterday at Shanghai Normal U.
shanghai conference
As least there were more questions and comments. The Chinese papers looked at various issues, including technology and learning sciences in China -- that speaker came to me with a picture of Roger Schank and asked if he was still at NU! He also expressed the desire to visit our LS program at NU. I could only feel compassion as I heard one speaker describe the struggle of universities to be allowed to admit their own students instead of having the government make those decisions.

It was a long, intense day, but most memorable. As I listened, I looked at the beautiful flowers that you see here -- there were three arrangements like that on the table. Then for dinner, another beautiful banquet at a local restaurant.

Tomorrow, I lead interpretive discussion with faculty of Fudan College for two hours.

January 8, 2011 - Shanghai

shanghai view
Greetings once again. Hope all is well there.

What you see above is a view of Shanghai as seen through a dirty window 24 floors up. Does it look like NYC? Maybe, but not exactly. Tomorrow we will take a tour in the city and I will take more photos. Perhaps we will have some NYC lookalike views then.

What was amazing? Tonight I led an interpretive discussion with 16 faculty members from Fudan College. THAT was amazing. I began by learning all their names, as I always do. Doing so was not as hard as I thought it might be. We discussed a poem called "Schoolmaster" by Yevtushenko, which is 40 lines and one with which I am very familiar. I read it to them in English, and someone in the group read it in Chinese. … Some translating of the comments was necessary, but very little. The conversation was flowed very easily -- both about the text (which lasted more than 90 minutes) and about the discussion itself, which lasted another two hours! They did line-by-line analysis, then argued about whether one could find the meaning of a poem by doing that, whether you could do text interpretation in the absence of information about the historical context, translation issues, etc, etc. What struck me was the eagerness with which they embraced the whole exercise. Really very moving. For some of them, it was clearly new, but they all stuck with it -- and just kept raising issues about the discussion. I could not have asked for more.

Tomorrow we have a half day of the conference and then a "concert" -- a singalong featuring an American medley of songs, which I will play on the piano in the coffee lounge on floor 15 of our building. It will be our last meal together. Afterwards, we go on the tour.

I am loving these people. One student, from Shanghai Normal University, is coming to NU to be my research assistant for a year so that she can learn about interpretive discussion. That is going to be wonderful, I think. She is very bright, and her English is excellent. She'll help me get the book for Harvard finished in the coming year.

January 9, 2011 - Shanghai

Greetings again from Shanghai. It is now Sunday, January 9, 2011, and the international conference on "The Role of Philosophy in Education and Educational Research" at Fudan University was concluded today. The sessions lasted only until noon, but once again we covered a lot of ground. We focused upon themes that have arisen before -- the goal of education in China today, nature of and need for moral education, and the problems of equity in this country. One reason why the conference has been so compelling is that the philosophical discussions are all rooted in very real, pressing problems. For example, we were told that there is great inequity between the schools in the cities and those in urban areas, between educational opportunities for people who are physically and mentally fit and those who are not, between the affluent and the non-affluent. We were told that primary school-aged children can be tested up to 35 times during the year to prepare them for the standardized test that they will take at the end of that year. At this conference, the hunger for an alternative approach to education was palpable.

shanghai meeting
Example: After the conference concluded and we lunched (more on that below), we embarked on a tour that took us past the places pictured here: 1) the site of the first Chinese Communist party meeting, which took place in 1921 – secretly -- and was attended by 13 delegates from around China and Russian representatives as well; 2) a fountain nearby that features sculptures of longevity, prosperity, and one other good (Val Phillips, wife of Denis Phillips, Stanford, stands with me in front of it); 3) a wok in a traditional shikumen house, which is now a museum. During the communist era, a shikumen house was occupied by multiple families who shared a common kitchen and bath/toilet area and each lived in one of the rooms. Anyway, It took 45 minutes to get to these sites from Fudan. One of the Fudan College faculty who attended the interpretive discussion on the Yevtushenko poem asked to sit next to me on the bus. He had made a list of questions about interpretive discussion -- a list which he only just exhausted when we arrived at site #1). Later, when we got back on the bus, he produced a second list of questions just as long, which took us all the back to Fudan. In the course of our conversation, he told me he had
shanghai fountain
translated several pedagogical works from the West into Chinese (one of which is on discussion facilitation) and was interested in translating my books on interpretive discussion. We'll see what the U of C Press, Yale and Harvard have to say about it, but the point is that his eagerness was unmistakable.

Today, I give a fourth presentation, this time to educators and teacher educators at East China Normal University. Then it is off to the Shanghai Museum. In the evening, I will have dinner with the family of one of the Fudan conference organizers. I look forward to talking with the 11-year-old son about his schooling experiences, etc.

By Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon
Last Modified: 1/12/11