Langley High School Principal Bill Clendaniel will start back to school on Tuesday with a fresh perspective after spending four weeks in China as part of a Fulbright-Hays study abroad program for teachers and administrators.
Langley chemistry teacher Kathy Bowdring and world studies teacher Brigitte Lavey also went with Clendaniel and a group of other high school and college teachers.
Clendaniel said he quickly adjusted his outdated mental images of a largely agrarian Red China ruled by Chairman Mao, where bicycles were the chief mode of transportation.
After visiting Beijing, Xi’an, and the Szechuan province of Cheng Du, he said, “I forgot I was in a foreign country. You could eat at KFC or McDonald’s. They were so capitalistic."
Also surprising, given recent world developments, was the warmth or their reception, said Clendaniel.
“I was struck by their friendliness to everyone, but especially Americans,” he said. “They liked Americans the most. They said we were the most generous and kind of all their visitors.”
“We were blown away by the friendliness toward us the whole time.
I can’t think of one time that anyone was rude to us. It was just the feeling over there. Parents would bring their kids to get their pictures taken with us.”
“WE WERE SHOCKED at their openness and willingness to look at new ways of doing things, in the country and in the city.”
“They are so interested in progressing to become a modern society. That seems to be the focus. The discussions we were having — with government officials, school administrators — were open and honest [They talked] about good things [that are] happening, but also what they need to work on.
“We spent a lot of time talking about women’s and children’s issues,” including discussions with the director of the Office of Women and Children, Clendaniel said. “We were struck by the openness and candor with which they reported news, both in their country and the world.”
As educators, the group also visited schools.
“They are very much fact-driven,” said Clendaniel. “They memorize, memorize, memorize. They know they have a problem with critical thinking. They wanted to talk about creative writing and problem solving. They wanted to know how you teach students to write stories.
“They really feel like they are behind. That is keeping them from competing.
“Our perspective is [that] we need to do more of what they are doing, and they need to do a lot more of what we are doing.”
Clendaniel said he thinks the visit to China “will make me urge teachers and students at Langley High School to look at something bigger than just what happens here locally,” he said.
“For the last however many years, the students at Langley have performed very, very well.
“But sometimes we get wrapped up in our own little world. It is time for us to embrace what is happening globally much more than we have. There are 1.3 billion Chinese people.
“These are the people our children are going to be interacting with over the years,” said Clendaniel. “The things that will affect our children are happening in the Middle East and Pacific Rim countries.”
Clendaniel said he is exploring the possibility of exchanging students and teachers with those from China.
“We already have students that visit from Russia and Germany,” he said.
“We did determine that kids are kids. There is a freshness and excitement about kids in China, just like here,” he said.