Nowadays people may admire China’s economy, but not Chinese creativity. Chinese architecture and art, music and movies are derivative, and many a Chinese enterprise is merely a carbon copy of an American one. China’s best schools may produce the world’s best test-takers, but the United States’ best schools produce the world’s most creative talent. . .I would add only that teaching kids how to think isn't merely essential for their emotional development; it's fundamental to the skills needed to compete in today's information and services economy, as reader OBH persuasively has argued.
The best US education institutions endow students with creativity by providing a relaxed and secure learning environment in which students share in the refined emotional experiences of humanity by reading books and developing the logic necessary to share in collective emotional experiences through debate and essay writing. A dynamic learning environment allows students at many US schools to feel joy and despair, frustration and triumph, and it’s these ups and downs that encode the creative learning process into our neural infrastructure and make it so transformative.
A Chinese school is both a stressful and stale place, forcing students to remember facts in order to excel in tests. Neuroscientists know that stress hampers the ability of the brain to convert experience into memory, and psychologists know that rewarding students solely for test performance leads to stress, cheating, and disinterest in learning. But ultimately, the most harmful thing that a Chinese school does, from a creativity perspective, is the way in which it separates emotion from memory by making learning an unemotional experience.
Whatever individual emotions Chinese students try to bring into the classroom, they are quickly stamped out. As I have previously written, from the first day of school, students who ask questions are silenced and those who try to exert any individuality are punished. What they learn is irrelevant and de-personalized, abstract and distant, further removing emotion from learning. If any emotion is involved, it’s pain. But the pain is so constant and monotonous (scolding teachers, demanding parents, mindless memorization, long hours of sitting in a cramped classroom) that it eventually ceases to be an emotion.