There are two ways to look at every problem in China, dating back to roughly 500BC.
There is the Professional way, promoted by Confucius, where every problem is unique and to be pondered on its own merits. In this philosophy, there can be general principles, but each situation requires consideration within its context. “As you would have others treat you, so treat others” was just one such principle voiced long before the West had the “Golden Rule.”
In opposition to this were the Legalists who said that most people are uneducated. To teach the general public to act by such a complex philosophy was not possible. The Legalists proposed laying down extensive laws and regulations for all human activities.
When the Professional school pointed out that laws were simplistic and a smart man could do “end runs” around the law, the Legalists replied by plugging the loopholes with even more laws. The regulations became massive.
How does this affect education today? Until recently, the American school teacher has been unusual among teachers worldwide in having the autonomy to construct their curricula, quizzes and tests, and classroom activities themselves, all customized on the unique students they teach. Until recently, the American teacher functioned in the Professional mode.
Much of the rest of the world designed schooling based on external testing that defined a standardized national curricula. Teachers were not treated as professionals similar to our doctors who are free to prescribe unique medications for unique patients. And now, in a dramatically short time under No Child Left Behind and its acceleration under Secretary Duncan, American teachers have been caught by this Legalist solution. One example of this contrast is the way we judge doctoral candidates in China and the U.S.
In American universities, science students pursuing a doctoral degree eventually defend their research in an open forum and then undergo an oral examination that should reveal to both the student and the faculty committee the boundaries of their knowledge and their skills in reasoning. The questioning is free-flowing and customized to the student—that is to say, it is Professional.
But now under the standardization forced on American public school teachers, we are seeing both students and teachers evaluated on certain checklists for evaluation, called “rubrics”—a term I particularly despise. But try to impose such a Legalistic template on our university faculty and you would have a full scale academic freedom rebellion on your hands.
However, that is exactly what was required in China beginning three years ago. This “Evaluation Form of Doctoral Student Defenses” breaks down defenses into the following categories:
1) Topic = 15 points.
2) Methods = 10 points.
3) Ability of Research = 5 points.
4) Basic Knowledge = 10 points.
5) Literature Review = 10 points.
6) References = 5 points...very wide, about 100 relevant references, 30%-40% foreign language (4-5); about 80 relevant references, less than 30% foreign language (3-4); minimal (2-3); few to none (0-1)
7) Honesty = 5 points.
8) Writing = 5 points.
9) Creativity = 25 points.
10) Situation of report and defense (ability to answer questions) = 10 points.
And in each category, there is a short description of what constitutes a high, medium and low score as I have provided above for item 6. A perfect presentation and defense totals 100 points. The note at the bottom continues: “If the total score is over 70 points, the student can pass the defense. Otherwise, the student will be failed” and “This chart is designed for providing a basis for the committee members to give their evaluation....”
In this form you can see the desire of the Chinese Ministry of Education to provide some standardization of rigor for doctoral defenses. And while I have dramatically abbreviated this form in translation, you can see their heavy point emphasis placed on “creativity” which still remains a subjective judgement. Yet U.S. professors realize that such forms do little to provide fairness; we cannot checklist rigor and quality. There is too much in the checklist that rewards and even drives cookbook science. For many of us, the inability of a student to answer fundamental questions (Item 10) can trump any of the other artificially-weighted categories. Such “little” things can be fatal flaws. These numbers are pseudoscience.
Despite the form, I see China exam panels make holistic judgements of student defenses, and “game the form” to represent their decision. Yes!
But if American professors would never tolerate this pseudoscientific “rubric,” why do we force our public school teachers to use them and be evaluated by them?
America needs to return to teacher Professionalism.