Mahony Gets Exclusive Sneak Peak
By Anna Duning (September 23, 2006)
This summer, one of our own teachers, Pam Mahony, traveled to a foreign country where the people actually like Americans.
Where in the world could that be? Try China. In fact, she says, “the Chinese love Americans.”
Ms. Mahony, a special education teacher here at Mason, had the exceptional opportunity to visit China with a group of 22 teachers under the J. William Fulbright Scholarship Fund. In the four weeks she spent there, in addition to petting a panda and walking along the Great Wall, she learned a vast amount about Chinese culture and more specifically, its education system. Upon returning, Ms. Mahony had acquired an entirely new perspective on this massive, growing country and its well over a billion people.
One of the remarkable things Ms. Mahony observed was the Chinese admiration of American culture. According to her, one of the most popular restaurants in China is none other than Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC? That’s right, and primarily because it is American. McDonald’s and Starbucks are even considered elite places to work. However, there is more to China’s American aspirations than those within the fast food industry. Ms. Mahony remarked, “[The Chinese] see America as a country with opportunities and freedom.” To cultivate such opportunities and further progress, the Chinese people especially invest in the education of their youth and Ms. Mahony witnessed this first hand.
Ms. Mahony and her fellow teachers were guided through several elementary and high schools in cities and provinces throughout China including Beijing, Xian and Cheng Du. The group primarily visited the newest and most elite boarding schools, many of which, she said, were as “elaborate” and “ornate” as museums. Such boarding schools, though, are not uncommon and some students even begin attending at the early age of five. Ms. Mahony further commented that like the high-schoolers here at George Mason, Chinese students are under incredible pressure to succeed. However, the situation in China is rather different. Education is not available to the entire population.
Beyond eighth grade, the country can only afford to send its “best and brightest” to receive further schooling. Putting every child in a school is simply not an option in a country of nearly 1.5 billion people. In fact, there are more children in elementary school than there are people in the United States. Furthermore, as Ms. Mahony remarked, there are more English learners in China than native speakers of English in the entire rest of the world. To Ms. Mahony, the enforcement of the one-child-per-family law became more comprehensible. And while seemingly distasteful to many Americans, the Chinese, she says, just accept the law as a part of life. Thus, one can see now why so much pressure would be placed on the select students who have the opportunity to attend school. That student is his or her parents’ only descendant who can carry on the family name and essentially compete in China’s aggressive, however, thriving economy.
While more and more Americans become curious about modern China and the events taking place on the other side of the planet, Ms. Mahony was fortunate enough to observe it all directly. She agrees that there is no doubt that China, as the most populous and rapidly developing country on earth, has great potential. However, she notes, “in order to become the next world power, they will have to sustain their current level of development.” Nonetheless, soon China may became more influential than ever before and some of those billions of students, only high-schoolers now like ourselves, will be shaping the world, perhaps even the United States.
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