Reflections on Learning in China

I’ve been back in the States for a week and mostly over the jetlag.  So I’ve had some time to reflect on my adventure in China.  First, my congratulations to Mark Johnson and Bryan Munson for a stimulating learning experience that mixed primary and secondary sources and included articles, poetry, podcasts, documentaries and videos in addition to visits to several historic sites.  In studying the Long March, students were urged to examine China’s culture as well as its history and to try to make sense of today’s China within historical and cultural perspectives.  One video in particular looked at Chinese civilization in a modern context:

This curriculum, along with discussions with Chinese university students and local individuals, helped our students work through the myths and state approved version of Mao and the Chinese Revolution (and all of its phases).  Our students examined varying perspectives to understand the legacy of the man and his impact on China in all its complexities.

Second, congratulations to Concordia International School Shanghai for its commitment to analytical learning.  In a country in which students learn through rote, Concordia’s curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, questioning, examining different viewpoints and drawing conclusions.  This is in strong contrast to even the university students with whom we had open conversations.  Several told me they thought history was a boring subject—not surprising since history there is generally taught with emphasis on details instead of discussion.

For me, in addition to the emersion in learning, the best part of the trip was interacting with the Concordia students and being part of their learning process.  And, of course, there was time for a few NHD discussions about this year’s theme, Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History.  🙂

If anyone is interested in learning more about China’s fascinating history in the 20th Century, here are a few titles:

Chang, Jung.  Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China.

Sun, Shuyun.  The Long March: the True History of Communist China’s Founding Myth.

And for a more recent look at the “New China”:

Hessler, Peter.  River Town.



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5 responses to “Reflections on Learning in China

  1. rosann johnson

    Hi Cathy. I’m so pleased you enjoyed your trip in China with our son, Mark, and the students. Mark keeps us up to date about his trips and school happenings. How fun it must have been for you to be an active participant. We will be joining Mark the first part of Dec. in Washington, D.C. to celebrate with him when he gets his award as the outstanding educator in global understanding. We are very proud of him and his accomplishments! I have enjoyed your website.
    Rosann Johnson

  2. Hi Cathy! I am a fifth year HD competitor, the first from my district to advance to Nationals (last year! whoo!) and this year, I’ve been talking to a lot of HD competitors in my town. I’m doing a lecture for my HD advisor’s middle school competitors . . . I’m realy excited! i have a powerpoint prepared and my advisor is having me bring my medals, judging sheets, stuff like that . . . if it’s at all possible, would you mind giving me a quote from yourself? I know you’re super busy planning the greatest academic comp of all time, so if you can’t, I totally understand! If you do want to, though, it can be anything — your favorite part of HD, your best memory . . .

    Thanks so much!(:


    • Cathy Gorn

      Hi Sierra:

      How’s this: “NHD is not the easiest program to be involved in. It takes a lot of time and work conducting research, thinking critically and being creative in presenting information. But it’s also a whole lot of fun!!! You get to own the learning process. You get to choose your own topic, conduct your own research and own your own entry! So go for it!”

      Feel free to shorten it if it’s too long. Let me know if you would like something else.

  3. JMOLJ

    I enjoyed reading the blog posts very much. I have followed up by watching the TED Talk by Martin Jacques (very interesting) and I plan to read Wild Swans next. Thanks for the suggestions and letting us share in your amazing experiences from afar!

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