"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Are You Smarter Than A Chinese High School Senior?

"In the U.S., where No Child Left Behind has made standardized testing a core article of faith in assessing student readiness, you have more and more parents worried about the lack of rigor in our curricula, and fearing the rise of China and other nations that excel in international math-science competitions." WSJ 6-26-2012

On the other side of the world what is China doing?  Their high school seniors must take the Gaokao, a grueling three day long exam that will determine whether they go to university or not. Tao Jones of the WSJ described the gaokao this way,
Many of us who took the SATs remember them with little fondness. Well, the SATs are child’s play compared to the gaokao. If the SATs are the academic equivalent of, say, a brisk footrace, the gaokao is an Iron Man triathlon. Across a minefield and through a piranha-infested river that ends in a waterfall. With people throwing ninja stars at you the whole time! Freaking ninja stars.
Students' senior year is entirely devoted to preparing for this exam. Roadways are closed off around testing centers to help students concentrate. Society does its best to make the lives of students easier for this critical test. This exam is critical because one's scores on it determine whether or not one gets into one of China's 2000 colleges.  There are only two thirds as many opening available in those colleges as there are students applying.  But a qualifying gaokao score can open one of those seats up to any student, regardless of where they come from.
"Taken across three consecutive days at the beginning of June, the gaokao covers three mandatory subjects — Chinese, Mathematics, and a foreign language, usually English—and three other topics drawn from a pool of electives: Physics, Chemistry and Biology for science track students, and History, Geography and Political Education for those on the humanities track. Yes, you have to decide what track you’re on before taking the gaokao, because its outcome will, quite literally, determine your fate."
The Margins magazine, a flagship online magazine of the Asian American Writers Workshop is hosting a contest to see how Americans would respond to the surreal gaokao.

Pick one of the following real gaokao essay topics and respond to it BY MIDNIGHT, JULY 3 in 400 snappy, brilliant, offbeat words or less. Feel free to be earnest or funny, snarky or sincere.
Email your entry to gaokao@aaww.org with the subject line I HAZ GAOKAO (please include the question you’re responding to). Feel free to enter as many times as you like BEFORE MIDNIGHT, JULY 3. Be creative in how you answer: Multimedia, artwork, photography, poetry, prose – all forms and formats are acceptable and encouraged.

Three winners will get a copy of Dave Liang‘s excellent album of remixes of Chinese children’s songs, “Little Dragon Tales,” and have their entries published on The Margins and in this column. Plus, we’ll send you to college in China. No we won’t! But we will honor you like the shining example that you are, in perpetuity.


1. I was helping my family with some farming work during a weekend and the field was very muddy due to the rains. I was carrying a lot of equipment on my shoulders and was afraid of falling over. My legs were shaking. My mom spotted it and told me to take off my shirt and shoes and try again. It was much easier. Eventually I brought the stuff to mom and she said, “It’s not that you can’t do it — you were too worried about getting your shirt dirty. By taking them off, you got rid of the unnecessary concerns.”

2. Old Ji is a railway security man and he works on a mountain. His job is to examine the railways to prevent the fallen stones and trees from affecting the trains. He salutes every time the train passes, and the train will honk its horn in return. What do these scenes remind of you?

3. Two fish are swimming in a river. The older one asks, “How’s the water?” The younger one says, “I don’t know if it’s clean or cloudy.”

4. Various communications methods are being developed: email, SMS, etc. Do you think the letter is replaceable?

5. For several months, a sign was left on a ladder at a construction spot: “Notice: Ladder.” One day, a guy came and changed it to “Notice: put the ladder down, not upright, when not in use.”

We invited MEW readers to share their essays with us in the comment section. 

1 comment:

  1. How can children respect teachers and learn when they witness constant bashing and ridicule by the media and most notably by politicians. They are constantly labeled as overpaid, too many benefits, under worked and incompetent and now we expect children to respect them?
    In order to improve education in the US we don't need more dictates from the "education experts" (many of whom have never taught in a public school a day in their lives) but instead a change in attitude of the entire country.
    The current plethora of educational schemes will never suffice.
    We need an all out effort to popularize education like that which has been done with the NFL and rap music.
    You might say that can't be done but I will then point to the popularization of science and engineering in the 60s. It was done well and with great results. It yielded many of today's scientists and engineers who have catapulted us into the technological age of the twenty first century.
    Criticism, castigation and lip service will never cure the problem!
    Walt Sautter


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