World Class

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The Book of the Week is “World Class, One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children” by Teru Clavel, published in 2019.

Born in the early 1960’s, the author had very different educational experiences from that of her children. She spent her early childhood years in Greenwich, Connecticut; middle years in New York City, and teens in Westchester county, New York. She, her husband and their three children spent a decade in Asia, and moved back to the United States in 2016.

They began their stay in Hong Kong in the expat community, but the author wanted her children to see how the natives actually lived and learned. The rat race among the super-rich elitists had become tiresome. So in Hong Kong and later in Shanghai, she found a preschool and elementary school that were right for her then-two children. Even so, most local Asian schools demanded discipline and rigorous academics that were standardized nationwide.

In Shanghai, though, her family endured hardships in order for her children to get the best educations– authentic to the culture of that place and time. In Asia, teaching is a highly respected profession for which there is rigorous training and a highly selective hiring process.

Both the author’s family’s local public school and their residence were structurally dilapidated. The former had classrooms that were unheated, so in winter, the kids wore their coats all day. The grounds had no playground, only a concrete basketball court with a bare hoop. The family’s home had vermin and unreliable water and internet service.

At the elementary school, the teachers specialized in math, Mandarin, English language or other subjects, and were paid more than the homeroom teacher. The kids learned with pencils and paper; not tablets and videos.

Every day before preschool began, the kids were subjected to a color-coded health examination: red (a lucky color in China) meant the child was well, yellow meant slight illness but okay to be in class, but blue indicated that the child would spend the day at the school infirmary. Most parents of elementary schoolers work to support a multi-generational household: an only child, the parents, and both sets of grandparents of the child.

The author’s six-year old son’s report card was a 46 page bound book containing assessments in each subject including social skills– comprised of opinions of the parents, teachers and students themselves. According to the author, the Chinese education system is a meritocracy, with high school and college entrance exams the keys to the kingdom.

The author wanted her children to attend high school in the United States, so the family moved to Palo Alto in California– the best school district in the nation; but, as the author found out, only reputationally.

Read the book to learn: many more details of Asian education and cultures, and how they compare to the American system in recent years; the author’s advice and tips for how parents can seek out the best education for their kids; and biographical information on the author and her family.