I am grateful for the opportunity to have traveled for a week in China just before Thanksgiving Break. It was encouraging to visit some of our current Chinese parents (we have ten Chinese students in the USLR and I was able to see 4 sets of parents). As I traveled from Beijing to Nanjing to Shanghai, I got to see some of the largest and most important Chinese cities — capitals of government, media, and finance. I met parents and students who are motivated to get the best education they can and for many that means seeking out great American schools where education is more individualized and personalized. Of course many of these students are motivated to learn English fluently so that they can communicate with “the world outside of China.”
I toured China with three other principals from New England Catholic schools — Holy Name (Worcester, MA), Bishop Brady (Concord, NH), and St. Thomas More School (Oakdale, CT). Isn’t it interesting that the Chinese seem very interested in enrolling in private schools with a Christian ethos — whether Catholic or Protestant — they are not trying to avoid schools with religious values or mission statements. Furthermore many families were interested in our Classical pedagogy and were interested to learn about our teaching of Logic and Rhetoric at CCA. I found that the message about who we are resonated with both the Chinese families we currently have and others who may be interested in coming to the Boston area in the future.
I had an opportunity discuss American education and CCA in particular on a weekly television show called “Study Tours” that focuses on international education. I also had the opportunity to participate in the 2nd Annual U.S. High School Education Forum in Xi Ning (a city in Western China near Mongolia). This was a unique opportunity to meet principals from Chinese schools that have fewer opportunities to interact with Western educators.
While I was in Xi Ning we (American Principals) received several demonstrations from Chinese elementary students. One was a musical demonstration of younger students playing native instruments (first video below); the other was an athletic demonstration of students dribbling basketballs in rhythmic coordination (second video below).
Both were impressive examples of a Chinese strength in education “We > I”. There is no question that Chinese educators train students to value the good of the community over the good of the individual. We can see that in the strict discipline and the attention to detail of being “with others” or “being in sync with others.” The maverick individual is frowned on in the Chinese school system. I need to think only of the impressive drumming performance in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing (2008) to see this principle writ large in Chinese adult society. Obviously this is a long way from the proud individualism of nineteenth century New Englanders like Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Self-Reliance”) and Henry David Thoreau (“Walden” and “Civil Disobedience”).
As Christians, when we think about the New Testament images like the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12 and 14), we are reminded that “We > I” in God’s economy as well. The idea of the Lone Ranger Christian would not have sat well with the Early Church or a strong understanding of the interdependence of Christian Community in our present day. Just as Chinese families are longing for their students to have a CCA education where they will be known as individuals and be able to grow in unique ways and be appreciated for their particular talents, we at CCA can be reminded of some good lessons the Chinese can teach us. It is good to pay attention to others and act in ways that serve the common good; it is good to not think of yourself more highly than you ought but to think of others as better than yourself. Perhaps there is something uniquely Christian about “We > I” and it is something that our school may be uniquely poised to teach the American and Chinese students among us. This is one more reason why God has called us to lives of “leadership and service in today’s global community” as our CCA mission statement says.
By David A. Church, Principal of the Upper School of Logic and Rhetoric