Thoughts from my friend Michael Dee
Speaking of China, my friend Michael Dee gave me permission to share his thoughts (he lives in Singapore, but when he lived in Houston chaired the HISD $850mm bond issue campaign, was a regional chairman of Teach For America, a member of the Executive Committee of KIPP Schools Houston, and a board member of Houston A+ Challenge):
I've lived in Asia for 11 years and have had my fill of the "China is taking over the world" and "America is in decline" crap. No one in his or her right mind would want to swap living in America with China. China is an environmental disaster zone like the Love Canal writ large.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in 30 cities. One-third of Chinese children have elevated levels of lead in their blood from manufacturing lead-acid batteries. Only 1% of the almost 600 million 560 million city residents breathe safe air. Recently air pollution was off the charts dangerous at the US Embassy in Beijing yet China reported it as 'good'. Last summer China reported that over 40% of China's river water is unfit for human contact. Half of China's population lacks safe drinking water. 80% of China's cities have no sewage treatment.
Politically Stalin wishes he had so much state control. It is widely known Beijing employs 30,000 people to monitor Internet traffic. Government official are increasingly being shown to be wantonly corrupt and self-preservation mode is the main ideology. Their growth comes from global multinationals chasing virtual slave labor worse than anything in US history. Just read about Foxconn in the NY Times which have horrible working conditions. Foxconn even has nets around the building roof to catch the workers jumping off the roof of the factory making your iPad. Recently 150 workers went up to the roof and threatened mass suicide.
Lead in kids toys, chemicals in the food, Melanine in the milk are just the tip if the iceberg. There are no workers rights and many aren't even paid. Women are treated horribly even though article 91 of their constitution provides women full equal rights. They systematically exterminate women through selective abortion and enslave the rest. In 2010 China announced plans to sterilize 10,000 women over four days and detained parents if they refused.
Parents do get their kids to work really hard in school but that is because their kids are their only hope to retire. It's completely self interest for parents as there is no safety net socially. China's economic advantage comes from their 1990-1994 devaluation, which was one of the largest in history and led to the Asia crisis. About 500 million people live on $2 dollar a day or less and 300 million exploited Chinese migrate from rural to city locations and factory towns to make our clothes, toys and electronics. The Chinese elite are the sons and daughters of the politically powerful.
No one with any sense wants to live there. The average school is crap and the China Pisa test results? 5,000 students in Shanghai. I believe them as much as the Atlanta test results. The China Daily recently reported hundreds of airline pilots have phony credentials. Application consultants are paid tens of thousands to falsify test results and write applications for students and cheating is rampant. Why do you think the Ivy's are cutting back on Asian students and Asian students won't tick the Asian box.
Don't compare our inner city kids with their urban elite. My wife and I have built 5 schools in China and at one they were being schooled in a cave prior to the new school. China has a rising tide of civil disturbances that has the elite rightly terrified. China does not have much history of peaceful political change. In its 5,000 years. The multinational elite are exploiting China for as long as they can but China is stealing their technology and business models or extorting technology secrets for market access. As to Amy Chua, I liked her book World on Fire but Battle Hymn should not be taken seriously either as a parenting manual or as a national Meme. Our education problems are primarily one of poverty amongst the poor and Battle Hymn will neither be red by nor inform inner city parents who have huge struggles themselves. Charters like KIPP, YES, etc. offer hope and a successful model but until they step up, take over a public school system and turn it around they will remain at the margin. They, and TFA alumni, have earned the right to be given a major chunk of the public school system to see if they can scale up, if they are willing to take is on.