One Step Forward...One Step Back
Linked through the name of the website here shanghaiist.com there is an interesting article which illustrates one of the reasons why teachers are afraid in include their own creative input into their lesson plans. There was an honest mistake in a Shanghai kindergarten by a good teacher who, besides for the content of the song, was doing a good thing. A teacher needed music to play at the students’ graduation ceremony. She searched on-line for something with a strong and appropriate drum beat. She did this by using a Chinese search engine music app. All of the beautiful touches were added to the children’s ceremony. The event came and went. I am sure the day went smoothly and said teacher had a proud smile on her face knowing that her hard work had paid off. She then enjoyed her summer after finishing the school year on a high note. Only after parents watched the recordings made from their cellphones did someone notice a problem.
As it turns out, that song was an Imperial Japanese battle song. The MP3 may not have been labeled as such. But sure enough, the teacher had done something unthinkable. In an act of making her class more interesting she managed to cause a mess.
The unlabeled MP3 proved that a small creative gesture can lead to big trouble as the school had to make a formal apology, the board of directors were called in and the Shanghai Department of Education stressed restrictions on the Internet and avoiding certain genres of music…even though Japanese martial songs and Chinese martial song are in the same genre.
Assuming that the news story isn’t sensationalist, this “scandal” is tragic for a couple of reasons. While school leaders would love to give teachers freedom to use resources in the classroom to better engage students, these leaders are accountable for every step and misstep of the teachers. Schools should encourage teachers to use the Internet as a resource but stories like this are just going to be tacked up on the board as a cautionary tale to teachers about the risks of accidentally picking the wrong unlabeled MP3, the wrong picture, or wrong video.
From what I have seen in schools, it appears to me that teachers feel that it is better to be safe than stimulating. Teachers are afraid to allow students to move around in the classroom during an activity for fear that if anyone gets hurt the school will be sued. In primary and middle schools, teachers cannot sit down during the lesson. If they do they will be fined. I have seen teachers use Baidu to find interesting pictures for their classes. I politely ask to help and switch to google and to a clipart search for type in clipart + whatever to find a wide assortment of great pictures that are age appropriate. This was before google.com was completely blocked.
Sometimes the impression of teaching is safer than actually teaching. Most of the students go to after school tutoring anyway. Teachers need to avoid dangers which range from physical to ideological. But I believe that there is much to be learned from a bump on the elbow or knee. The teacher cannot tell a student that running carelessly is dangerous as effectively as a little gravity can. The little jolt may induce tears but calm adults show the child that they can assess themselves and realize that there is really nothing to cry about. Children learn this rather quickly. Adults, not so much.
But there is another kind of bump that effectively teaches lessons. And as in this case of the kindergarten teacher in Shanghai, it is a tragic lesson. It is the lesson of what happens to the nail that sticks up.
Still I am left with a question. Why does Baidu Music have such hated-Japanese songs available on their app? And who are these parents who so easily recognize Imperial Japanese war songs just by a few bars of the drum intro?