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Exchange Teacher : Jin-ping Yang Opens a Window on China in Irvine

March 21, 1985|DOUG BROWN | Times Staff Writer

Yang said his insecurity about teaching Americans has disappeared because of the support he has received from his master teacher Hu, whom he called a "wonderful person."

And he had high praise for his students: "None of them have given me any trouble. They've cooperated very well, and they are very interested in learning Chinese."

Teaching here has also been a learning process for Yang, who noted, "Teaching methods here are different than they are in China. In China the teacher lectures and the students sit, listening quietly. The students feel too shy to ask questions. But American students are not shy.

"American students don't hesitate to speak out on what they're thinking about. And American teachers encourage students to speak in class, and to give their own opinions. I think that's good because it helps the students to develop their own personalities and own way of thinking; they're not pressured into thinking one way. I think students learn a lot more."

Will Take Home Techniques

Yang said the principal of his high school in Peking is excited about the teaching techniques he is learning in the United States. In addition to applying them in his own classes, Yang plans to show them to other high school teachers in workshops following his return to China this summer.

"Most visiting scholars who have been to the States have studied at universities, and they know little about high schools," Yang said, explaining why the Chinese government views the teacher-exchange program as very important to the reforms planned for Chinese high schools. And one of the planned changes is to encourage students to participate in classroom discussions.

Of the caliber of scholarship at American high schools, compared with their Chinese counterparts, Yang said such an evaluation would be impossible because the educational systems of the two countries are so different.

Unlike the United States, where anyone can go to secondary school, China (like most other countries) allows only its best and brightest students--as determined by competitive exams--to attend academic high schools. The rest of the teen-age population receives vocational training.

Yang said the Chinese system of competing for admission to academic high school--the door to a college education and career opportunities--"encourages students to work hard."

An unfortunate effect of this system, however, is that "because doing well on these exams is so important in determining what careers students may pursue, some students study to the exclusion of other activities," he added.

'Minds Become Stiff'

"Their minds become stiff; all they do is read , read . Students don't get a chance to develop their own personalities, or to improve their own individual talents."

Indeed, China's inflexible educational system has meant that "while Chinese students do well in passing their exams, they are not very good at doing experimental things," Yang maintained. "Chinese students can probably do better on exams than American students, but when it comes to doing things like (scientific) laboratory work that requires original thought, I don't think the Chinese students can do better than American students--and maybe much worse."

While Yang has been learning much from his University High experience, the high school has been learning much from him, according to Principal Robert Bruce.

"Jin-ping brings a different and fresh perspective to the school," Bruce said. "He's from a culture where things are done differently than they are here; it's good for the kids to see first hand that there is more than one way to get things done."

'Come a Long Way'

Bruce said he was pleasantly surprised at how "outgoing" Jin-ping is and how easy he is to get to know. He said he has received no negative reaction to Yang's coming from a Communist nation.

"When I was in high school, I was on the debate team," recalled Bruce. "I once (in 1956) had to debate the proposition 'Resolved: Communist China Should be Recognized by the United States.' I think we've come a long way since then.

"Many of our students will be going into business and government. I think it's important for them to recognize that China has the largest population in the world, that we are going to have to communicate with the Chinese and live in peace with them.

"The more students we have who can speak Chinese and understand the culture," continued Bruce, "the more likely we are to understand China's perspective on the world. That does not mean that our students will necessarily agree with what the Chinese government does, but I think it does mean they will have a greater understanding of why the Chinese do things the way they do."

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