Peddie and EFZ/Shanghai: Partners, continents apart (Video: Mr. Harrison, Text: Mr. Gustavson)

Monday, we spent almost entirely at EFZ where we visited a variety of classes in the international school, beginning with a 7th grade math class that was learning how to calculate the areas of various shapes with an emphasis on the area of a circle.  The teacher used a circle cut into triangles to set up a proof for the students.  We then attended an 8th-grade world history class that was discussing the causes of World War II and Hitler’s rise to power.  How distant is this event from their usual areas of knowledge?  I’m not sure.  How much do American schoolchildren know about Mao’s Long March?  (How much do American eighth graders know about Hitler?)  Last, we attended an English composition class that was learning about journalism.  The teacher, a graduate of Mercersburg Academy, is a writer and former journalist.  She has just begun teaching at the school but conducted a lively class. In the evening, Andrew, Anne-Marie, and I went to a nearby restaurant where we ate on our second or third night in Shanghai.  At that time, we managed to order, with the help of a waiter with a little English, a very modest and moderately appetizing meal.  On this second visit, we ordered a wonderful meal by pointing at pictures and using some of the (little) Chinese we have learned.  It set us back $36 for all of us, about a third of what it would have cost us in the States.  Did I mention that we are starting to feel at home here?

Tuesday, we visited the school’s TV station.  EFZ has a very impressive studio where students ordinarily tape news programs twice a week.  This department also has a radio station and a command center with a bank of televisions which it can use to transmit programs to the various televisions around campus, especially in the dining hall where they show such things as news programs, historical dramas, and even NBA basketball games.  In Shanghai, this station was once on the cutting edge, but many high schools now have equivalent or even better facilities.  Later, we visited an eighth-grade literature class that discussed “The Medicine Bag,” a story about a young American’s conflicted feelings about his Native-American heritage and how he learns to value it.  This story is part of a unit on rites of initiation and coming of age.  We had a long discussion with the teacher afterwards.  She once taught at a middle school in Istanbul near Robert College where I held my first teaching job forty years ago. 

In the evening, we went to a restaurant near People’s Square for a farewell dinner, hosted by the Shanghai parents, for John Green.  It was a moving experience for us because their appreciation of John and what he has done to open Peddie to Chinese students was so palpable.  The father of two former Peddie students from Hong Kong, Winston Tang, who has supported John in the development of this Chinese program, was there and served as something of a master of ceremonies.  Gao often helped with the translation of comments from one language to the other.  Overall, there were 20-25 people at the table.  We began with all of the Chinese parents speaking of their children and their experiences at Peddie, often at length and sometimes almost poetically.  Then we moved to the toasts and the oft-repeated request to John to rethink his decision to retire, a way for these parents to show their appreciation for everything he has done for their children.  Dinner was outstanding with a tremendous variety of dishes on a lazy Susan that was hard to move because it was so big.  Afterwards, John spoke and emphasized two things:  first, he discussed his initial vision of the program with China and his belief that instituting it would help these Chinese students and the Peddie community make the world a better place.  He saw it as transformative for the school as a whole and for our students.  He then added that it came as an unexpected surprise and gift to him that this program has also been transformative for him because of the many strong relationships he has formed and how much he has learned about China.  As the evening continued, we heard many more stories, in English and Chinese, and shared many laughs.  No one wanted to leave, but we finally had to do so.   Andrew, Anne-Marie, and I caught one of the last subways home to EFZ.

Today, Wednesday, John, Gao, Brian Davidson, and many of the key administrators of EFZ met with the students who will be heading to Peddie in a couple of weeks.  Andrew, Anne-Marie, and I are starting to get to know some of these students a bit.  They are a lively and friendly group, and it will be fun to have them at our school.  After lunch with Brian, we headed into town and visited the Museum of Modern Art, a nice facility, but apparently without a permanent collection.  The quality of the current exhibit is modest, although there are some nice pieces.  Afterwards, we wandered along Fuzhou Lu, visited some bookstores, and bought some writing implements with the ambition to learn more about Chinese calligraphy.

Tomorrow, I will teach a couple of poetry classes …