In China, my son had to study hard. Here in the U.S., he just needs to bring a ‘healthy snack’ to school

Habi Zhang:

As a Chinese doctoral student raising a young son in the U.S., I am mystified by how American elementary schools coddle students. In China, schools are run like boot camps. What do the therapeutic comforts America showers on its youth portend for a growing competition with China?

I recently registered my son in the third grade at a New Jersey public school. Hattie had recently finished two years of elementary school in Chengdu, China, where he trotted off to school each day with a backpack stuffed with thick textbooks and materials for practices and quizzes. Here he leaves for school with little in his backpack other than a required “healthy snack.”

The first day he came home with a sheet of math homework: 35 addition problems. He finished in about a minute. On the second day, he was asked to write 328 in different configurations. He first wrote down 300+20+8, following the prompt, and then 164×2, 82×4 and 656÷2.

My son is not a genius, but he started studying math at an early age. When he was 5, I taught him fractions. Two years later, I introduced him to algebra. It is a core belief in Chinese society that talent can be trained, so schools should be tough on children. Chinese students score at the top of international math and science tests.