How China Kills Creativity

For the Diplomat, Jiang Xueqin writes about what he sees lacking in Chinese schools:

The very best US schools are seen as such because they inspire their students to be curious, interested, and excited; China’s very best schools gain their reputation by doing the opposite.

Thinking is the conscious effort of applying our memories to understand a new external stimulus, and is asserting individual control over this process to create a synthesis between memory and stimuli. In other words, thinking is really about applying previous emotional experiences to understand a new emotional experience, whilst creativity is the mixing of old and new emotional experiences to a create an entirely new and original emotional experience.

The best US 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.


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