Yong Zhao was born and educated in China. He has studied Chinese and American education for many years. He is currently “a Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas, as well as a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy at Victoria University in Australia, and a global chair at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.” His honors and awards are too numerous to list.

He recently saw an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why American Students Need Chinese Schools.” He knows from personal experience and research that this is a dreadful idea.

In this article, he explains why Chinese schools are not a model for our schools..

The article in the WSJ was written by Lenora Chu, a journalist who sent her son to one of the best schools in China. The book–“Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve”–recalls the one about Chinese Tiger moms that was a bestseller a few years ago.

Zhao writes:

“I would have easily discarded the article for its ludicrous title if I had not read the galley of the book before. I did not see any convincing evidence in the book that supports the proposal that American students need Chinese schools. Quite to the contrary, I understood the book as further evidence for not importing Chinese schools into America.

“Little Soldiers is far from a love affair with Chinese schools as the title of the Wall Street Journal article suggests. It is, rather, a vivid portrayal of an outdated education model that does serious and significant damage.

“Chu and her husband are American journalists living in Shanghai. They enrolled their son Rainey in a local Chinese school. The book is a journalistic recount of her observations of the experience and her personal interactions with the school as well as with parents, teachers, students, education leaders, and scholars in China and elsewhere.

“Rainey’s experience in Soong Qing Ling, easily one of the best schools in Shanghai, which has perhaps the best schools in China, once again exposes the problems of Chinese education: rigid, authoritarian, and unhealthy competition. He was force-fed eggs by his teacher; he was silenced during lunch; he was rewarded for sitting still and mute; he was told to compete to become No. 1 because there was no reward for second place. He was not allowed to ask questions, and he learned that the teacher and the school have unquestionable authority. His family hired private tutors and spent breakfast time taking tests.

“Using threats as motivational tool is common in Chinese education. Chu calls the Chinese “world-class experts at fear-based motivation.” It works but it can have serious consequences. Rainey became afraid. He once asked his father if he’d be taken away by the police if he did not take a nap because the teacher in school threatened that if he did not nap as required, the police would take him away.

“Chu also reports that her son became afraid of other things associated with school: being late, missing class, or disappointing the teacher.

“As a coping strategy, Rainey learned to lie, to fake. He learned to fake a cough when he wanted water in class because he discovered that was most effective way to get to drink water without irritating the teacher.

“Chu was fully aware of the problems of Chinese schooling. She does not have Stockholm syndrome. She is a caring mother, a reflective journalist, and a curious observer. She, of course, wants the best for her child, as any mother would. The best for her is the “exact middle” between academic rigor and play, serious academic studying and enjoying what life has to offer in sports, arts, leisure, literature, drama, and comedy.

“It was apparent that the Chinese school was tilting too much toward one end. So the couple devised a countermeasure to mitigate the negative effects of Chinese schooling.

“Unlike many Chinese parents who typically have to reinforce what the school does at home, Chu and her husband decided to provide a very different experience for their child. They allowed him to make his own decisions, filled his environment with choices, provided him with art supplies, took him to museums, played soccer and tennis with him, and involved him in other activities for the sole purpose of leisure. Essentially, they created an American experience for their boy at home…

“The lessons Chu distilled from Chinese schooling are not new. Many before her have shared the same message: authority and rigidity are virtuous and should be adopted by American schools.

“In essence, she wants teachers as an unquestioned authority. She writes in her Wall Street Journal article: “[H]aving the teacher as an unquestioned authority in the classroom gives students a leg up in subjects such as geometry and computer programming, which are more effectively taught through direct instruction (versus student-led discovery) …”

“She also believes that rigidity is an educational advantage: “The reason is simple: Classroom goals are better served if everyone charges forward at the same pace. No exceptions, no diversions,” Chu writes in the article.

“Furthermore, Chu believes the sufferings delivered by the Chinese authoritarian, high pressure, and rigid education are nothing more than rigor.

“China’s school system breeds a Chinese-style grit, which delivers the daily message that perseverance — not intelligence or ability — is key to success” because the Chinese believe hard work trumps innate talent when it comes to academics, she wrote.

“In essence, Chu believes American education is not authoritarian enough, not rigid enough, and not demanding enough in comparison to education in China. She is not alone…

“As much as I enjoyed the book and admired Chu’s courage for sending her son to a Chinese school, I don’t see an authoritarian and rigid education as meritorious. As someone who has experienced both Chinese and American education as a student and teacher and an educational researcher for nearly three decades, I have learned that such a system results in unproductive successes — outcomes that appear appealing in the short term but result in long term irreparable damages. Something I call the side effects of education, akin to the side effects of medicine. In this case, the side effects are so severe that the medicine should not be approved.”

“Force-fed learning,” Zhao writes, is nothing to emulate.