|http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/03/12 11:22 英语沙龙|
The students at Beijing Hongzhi Middle School, where I teach English once a week, are an impressive group, but like so many kids in Beijing they are also under tremendous pressure from their parents to get good grades. This pressure seems never to end. Many times students will confide to me that they have been having difficult conversations with their parents about their grades, and they are frightened about the future. Even very good students are not immune1. Although their grades are already very high, their parents constantly press them to study more and work harder. There is an allpervasive fear of failure and a constant dread that any slowdown in their work could seriously harm their chances of getting into a famous university and living a good life in the future.
But this dread is mistaken. It may have been true many years ago that the chance of success was very low, and a failure to grasp that chance would condemn2 a young person to a life of poverty and failure, but things have changed. As China continues its rapid growth and even more rapid pace of social change, the demand for smart, educated and creative people will rise rapidly, and the chances for success will depend more on a person’s imagination, willingness to take risk, and common sense3 than on his school grades or which university he attended.
This is a very important point that I think many students fail to grasp. In a poor and unchanging system, like China of old, the path to advancement tends to be very narrow, rigid and welldefined. With few opportunities for advancement, and with a very clearlydefined hierarchy1, anyone who wants to do well has to slog2 his way up the ladder3, and since everyone knows exactly what he must do in order to advance, there is no room for imagination or playfulness. Success comes from a very rigid and highly disciplined study of what worked in the past.
But China today is very different. It is growing and changing so quickly that it is no longer so obvious what kind of success is available and how to achieve it. Old ways of succeeding are becoming less relevant, and as new opportunities open up, they will not necessarily go to those who have worked diligently and patiently to earn the right credentials4. New opportunities don’t require credentials. Instead these new opportunities will go to whoever is first to see them and to seize them. The new China, in other words, will not belong to those who have mastered the old way of succeeding. It will belong to those who have mastered the new way.
One of my favorite students at my middle school may be a good example of what I mean. Ronnie (his English nickname) is a very bright young man in his last year of middle school. He is a good athlete, popular among his classmates, and embraces life with such gusto5 that wherever he is he seems to be the center of attention.
Ronnie is not in my class. I met him in my second day of teaching when I went to the basketball court after class to shoot6 a few baskets with the students. Most middle school students would be a little shy of walking up to and befriending a new teacher who happened to be a foreigner and had been introduced to the school as a wellknown Tsinghua economics professor, but Ronnie was not intimidated7 in the least8. He came up to me, welcomed me to the school and offered to organize a basketball game. After the game we continued our conversation and I was so impressed by his attitude and poise that I offered to give him regular English lessons after school.
Over the past months I have gotten to know Ronnie very well. His enthusiasm for new experiences and the ease9 with which he has mingled with10 my Tsinghua students and foreign friends is very impressive for one so young. Instead of grinding out1 homework, which he avoids every chance he gets, he prefers to meet new kinds of people, explore Beijing, and discover new ideas. He doesn’t sit back watching nervously as life whirls2 around him but prefers to jump into the middle of things and learn how to navigate3.
But for all his intelligence and enthusiasm, Ronnie is not a particularly good student. Instead of rigid focus and concentration, Ronnie offers a rapid mind and intellectual fearlessness. This is not what a student needs in order to do well on the national exams, and in fact it can actually hurt his performance by distracting him from the boring but necessary hard work. Because his grades are not brilliant, I am sure that Ronnie’s parents are very worried about his future. His grades are just not good enough to get him into a top university.
If I had met him twenty years ago, I too might have been very worried about Ronnie’s future prospects. In those days there didn’t seem to be much room for a smart, quickthinking, and imaginative young man who was willing to take risks but was unable to force himself to buckle down4 and memorize the huge amounts of information he needed to pass his exams with good grades. Today, however, I am not worried for him at all. I think that even though Ronnie will probably miss the chance to go to a famous university, he will probably have a better career than many of the top students in his school. What will he do? I have no idea, but that is the point. As an imaginative and bright young man who is not afraid to try new things, China today is more open to him than it will be to many other young men and women who have spent most of their young lives studying and passing exams.
My students at Beijing Hongzhi Middle School and at Tsinghua University are among the most impressive young men and women that I have met in any of the many countries I have lived or worked in. They are also lucky enough to be living in a place and time where the future is wide open and anything is possible. But I often worry that my students are sometimes under too much pressurefrom their parents, their teachers, and themselvesand that this pressure, rather than increase their chances of success, is actually going to harm their lives and reduce their chances of doing well. I would like to see many more of them exchange their dread of future for enthusiasm for life. I would love to see many more of them living like Ronnie.(by Michael Pettis)
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