Today I was teaching a young kindergarten class (again) and there was one boy that learned the words quicker and pronounced them better than any of the other kids. He looked like he might have been a bit older than the rest. Wanting to encourage what also could have been a natural talent for acquiring foreign languages, I pulled him aside at the end of class and told him his English was really excellent and that he should keep it up. His response? “I’ve always been really smart!”
Of course I was amused by this response. My teaching partner’s response was, “he sure hasn’t learned any modesty yet!” It kind of made me wonder, though… was it more his own personality shining through, or was his response a result of conditioning by teachers and parents?
Then, as the next class was coming in, my teaching partner did something that really bothers me. In front of all the other kids, with all eyes on her, she singled out a little boy and told him he was the best-looking and that she liked him the best. This is something she does often, and, as with this little boy, she does the same thing with the same boy every time we teach that class.
My teaching partner doesn’t do this because she’s insensitive, and it’s something that I’ve seen a lot of teachers at a lot of kindergartens in Shanghai doing. Apparently they don’t see anything wrong with giving special attention to the kids they “like the best.” (There are instances in China of parents “bribing” teachers with money or gifts in exchange for giving their kids more attention, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, and I know it’s not the case with my partner.)
I think to most Americans, this kind of teacher behavior is unacceptable. When you single out one kid as good-looking and tell him you like him because he’s good-looking, you’re sending out a powerful message to the other kids: (1) You’re not good-looking, and, more importantly, (2) I don’t like you as much because you’re not good-looking. I’ve mentioned my views to my teaching partner, but nothing stuck.
They say everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten. Apparently one of the clearest messages for a lot of Chinese kids is “good-looking people get ahead in life easier.” Call me an idealist, but I think that’s a pretty harsh reality to learn at such a young age.