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TC and China

This spring, when Frances Schoonmaker returns to China's Nanjing Normal University for the first time in 15 years, she'll be braced for a shock.

With all the construction and traffic, “I don’t know if I’ll still be able to ride my bicycle around,” says Schoonmaker, Professor Emerita in TC’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching, who will deliver the university’s Famous Foreign Professor lectures, funded by Jiangsu Province.

But Schoonmaker, who has taught in China and other nations throughout her career, also expects to find a changing educational landscape – one that to a large extent reflects the influence of Teachers College over more than a century.

In the early 1900s, a generation of brilliant Chinese educators studied at the College and returned home to modernize their country’s school system. John Dewey spent two years in China, from 1919—1921, delivering more than 200 lectures.

More recently, the work of Mun Tsang, an education economist who directs TC’s Center on Chinese Education, prompted China’s government to make public education accessible to literally millions of poor students in rural areas. TC faculty are also changing the way China teaches art and laying the groundwork for a community college system that could serve the vast number of migrant workers flooding into the cities.

Currently, TC is working with China to bring top Chinese high school students to TC to help them prepare to attend colleges in the United States. Through TC, Chinese college students who aspire to teach take classes and visit leading U.S. public and private high schools. The TC-China partnership is also assembling cohorts of rising young leaders in both the United States and China to study together in both countries.

Fran Schoonmaker hasn’t had to travel to see the effects of all these efforts.“In the early 1980s, Chinese students at TC looked at curriculum essentially as a syllabus or textbook approved by the Ministry of Education,” she says. Schoonmaker says China’s education leaders are talking a very different party line today. “Just the other morning, in the South China Morning Post, the Secretary of Education said the government is ‘committed to safeguarding core values such as citizens’ rights, freedom and democracy and to accommodating different viewpoints and opinions.’ He was referring specifically to their new National Curriculum for Moral Education.”

Published Friday, Jun. 28, 2013