041 – Inspiring Independence with Yong Zhao

041 – Inspiring Independence with Yong Zhao




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[In This Episode][Guest Bio][Additional Notes][Text Transcript]

In This Episode

How do we create young adults that do NOT come back to live in our basements?   What is role of parents in creating opportunities for their children?  How important is it to hold children accountable for their decisions?  Today’s podcast will shed light on these questions.

Hey there, Innovation Nation!  Today’s show is both profound and practical.  If you have been wondering, “How in the world can I get my kids to become independent thinkers–to take action on their own without being micromanaged?”, you have tuned into the right episode!  As parents and educators, we are often plagued with an unwillingness of children to think for themselves or else to take responsibility for their thinking and actions.  You will hear today’s guest relate conversations he had with his own children, saying things like,

“We can expand your horizons.  We will be there to support you, but you have to take responsibility for your own choices.”

It can be a tricky thing as an adult responsible for children to say on the one hand, “I can help you do that better/easier/faster,” while on the other hand saying, “You’ll have to figure that out on your own.”  Which decisions do we encourage children to make on their own, and which ones do we help them navigate?

This delicate balance between fostering independence and opening the door to opportunity takes practice to perfect.  If we don’t give children enough rope, they never get the opportunity to make the necessary mistakes to learn complex tasks.  On the other hand if we never intervene or help them, they make miss grand opportunities to take giant steps forward.

This tension between “You should try that on your own” and “Here can I show you a different way?” is precisely the experience we strive to create in the Inventor’s Bootcamp.  Cassie was a student in one of our camps last summer.  At first, she stood back while one of the other members of her group did all the computer programming.  To be fair, she wasn’t particularly interested in programming, but then the other team member had some extenuating circumstances and couldn’t show up to finish the project.  Suddenly, Cassie needed to learn the coding for their group’s project to succeed.  She stepped up to the challenge because we didn’t rush in to solve her problem.

At other times, students may be facing a challenge for which they have no framework.  In these moments, we introduce the basic concepts, help them get their feet wet, and then step back to see how far they can run on their own.  We are always amazed at what students can do on their own.  To get your students connected this summer, visit InventingZone.com, and declare your child’s independence!

Our guest today is an expert on this subject of independent thinking and student choices in education.  Dr. Yong Zhao started his educational career in the unlikeliest of places:  the Sichuan province in China in the home of a poor peasant farmer.  Let’s follow his journey to independent thinking to find clues for our own children.

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About Yong Zhao

 YongZhaoYong Zhao currently serves as the Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon, where he is also a Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership. He is also a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, Victoria University. His works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education.

He has published over 100 articles and 20 books, including Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. He is a recipient of the Early Career Award from the American Educational Research Association and was named one of the 2012 10 most influential people in educational technology by the Tech & Learn Magazine. He is an elected fellow of the International Academy for Education. His latest book World Class Learners has won several awards including the Society of Professors of Education Book Award (2013), Association of Education Publishers’ (AEP) Judges’ Award and Distinguished Achievement Award in Education Leadership(2013).

Until December, 2010, Yong Zhao was University Distinguished Professor at the College of Education, Michigan State University, where he also served as the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Technology, executive director of the Confucius Institute, as well as the US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence.

Zhao was born in China’s Sichuan Province. He received his B.A. in English Language Education from Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages in Chongqing, China in 1986. After teaching English in China for six years, he came to Linfield College as a visiting scholar in 1992. He then began his graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1993. He received his A.M. in Education in 1994 and Ph.D. in 1996. He joined the faculty at MSU in 1996 after working as the Language Center Coordinator at Willamette University and a language specialist at Hamilton College.

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What is the Purpose of an Education?

“The highest goal of education is to really liberate individuals–to give people the capacity, the power to become better selves.” Yong Zhao

“A good education keeps children out of your basement–to have an independent child who does not live in your basement!”  —Yong Zhao

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Quotes from Dr. Zhao

 “Whatever opportunity came along, if I enjoyed it, I would do it.  Also I tried to run away from my weaknesses.  That’s a major theme in my writing philosophy:  try not to do things you are not good at.”  —Yong Zhao

“I think a lot of times I would like to create a bigger space for my children.  So we always told them, ‘We can expand your horizons.  We will be there to support you, but you have to take responsibility for your own choices.”Yong Zhao

“Provide opportunity for your children as early as possible…  The opportunities should either help them identify their strengths or uncover their weaknesses.  Help them develop interest in something.  The worst fear I have for anybody is that in life you can’t find something you actually enjoy doing.”  —Yong Zhao

“The strongest message [to parents] is that children have to be the owners of their own learning, their own life.  Parents can create and provide opportunities, but we should hold children accountable for their own choices.  Yet we should not try to force our children along one pathway that we believe is correct.”  —Yong Zhao

“Do not force your children to comply with external standards and judgments.  Especially when they are really young.  If your child cannot read in Kindergarten as well as the next door neighbor, I would not worry about that.  Look at what they CAN do, not what they cannot do.”Yong Zhao

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Sichuan province in China where Dr. Zhao grew up

 Speaking of how he was allowed to advance in his education: 

“I was born in a very poor family, so poverty was the only credential needed to advance to another level.”  —Yong Zhao

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Full map here

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Dr. Zhao’s Books:

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?”:

“World Class Learners”:

 “Catching Up or Leading The Way”:

“Handbook of Asian Education”:

“The Digital Pencil”:

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Additional Notes


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Full Text Transcript – Coming Soon!

“If you impose upon children–you force them to do what you want them to do, they accept no responsibility.  You actually deprive them [of the responsibility], and you can’t hold them accountable.”  —Yong Zhao

“Basic knowledge or skills should be sought after not imposed upon.  If children are creative or want to be great in a certain domain, they will pursue that knowledge.  That’s where project based learning comes.  If you engage children in making something, and that information is necessary, they will have to learn it.  For instance if children want to learn how to play a video game, but all the instructions for the video game are in Japanese, they will have to learn Japanese or find someone to translate it.”  —Yong Zhao

“Knowledge is important, but it is not supposed to be uniformly imposed upon every child at the same time.”  —Yong Zhao
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