I hear the noise first.  A sort of murmur in the background, easily ignored.  But I know what it portends, sitting here, and prepare myself for the onslaught.  I hear the front door open, and the muffled roar from hundreds of throats assaults my ear canals, while I can feel the vibration of their stamping feet through the soles of my shoes.  They are coming for me, and their voices chant my name.  They stream past, and for five minutes it is pure chaos.  Their matching coats blend into a solid blur as scramble on, their rhythmic cries emerging from the scrum.

"Hello, Ben Teacher!"

"Teacher Ben!"

"Hello Teacher!"

It is 4:30pm.  Zhonghe Elementary School has just let out, and the students head off to their various after-school activities, which, being that this is Taiwan, mostly consist of more school.  While I don't really think much of the Taiwanese educational system, it does have a few advantages, most important of which is that it pays my salary.

Basically, the official school day in Taiwan (at least for elementary school students) is about the same length as that in America.  The difference is that once school lets out, more than 90% of the students then go on to buxiban, or cram school.  Basically these are private schools where the students go to get additional knowledge crammed into their heads.  Jordan's Language School (where I work) is one of these.  I only teach English, but there are also math, science, art, and Chinese classes.

In high school, apparently, it's even worse.  My friend Willy is 17.  On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, he gets out "early" from school, which means 4pm.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is in school until 10pm.  He doesn't even change classrooms, either.  He and his classmates sit in the same room all day, while their teachers come in and out.  Can you imagine, sitting in the same room for 14 hours a day?  It gives you an idea why Taiwanese people generally maintain close ties with their classmates!

But apart from the work ethic that this form of schooling imparts, I really think the Western style is better, when done right.  (When done wrong, which it frequently is, students learn absolutely nothing.)  The contrast being that the philosophy behind Western schooling is that we are taught critical thinking.  Then, when you come across new knowledge, you can apply your trained mind to it, process it, and deal with it.  In the Eastern style (or at least, the Taiwanese form of it), they just try to cram as much knowledge into their heads as early as possible.  It means that the kids here are years ahead in math and the sciences, but they are incredibly naive, and don't usually respond well to questions which require more thought than just a regurgitation of a memorized fact.  Also, the social sciences really get shafted to make way for the other stuff.  History is given a pretty short shrift here, except for Chinese history.  You'd think they'd learn Taiwanese history, but since the Guomindang (Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist Party, also called the KMT) was in power for so long, the reunificationist doctrine is still pretty entrenched in their school system.  It's only recently that they've even been allowed to speak Taiwanese to each other in school, let alone take Taiwanese language classes or learn Taiwanese history.  And since Taiwan has never been an important part of China (and was never part of the Chinese Empire for all that long, comparatively) Chinese history doesn't say much about Taiwan, leaving these kids ignorant about the history of their own country.  Of course, if you consider yourself Chinese, not Taiwanese (which is the position of the Nationalists), I guess that makes sense.  (I generally consider the current Nationalist Party to be brain-damaged.  Take one guess where I stand on the issue of Taiwanese independence.)  (Ok, I also think the other political parties are brain-damaged, too.  Just, you know, in a slightly better way.)

(Yay, parentheses!)


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