I'm no stranger to having deep conversations with my cab driver...or Uber driver...or Groundlink driver. My typical theory is: as long as you are headed to the hotel or getting me to the airport on time, we can talk about whatever you want. Often, we talk about the difference in the weather between their city and mine. I have gotten advice as to the best places to go in Africa for a safari (information I fully intend to use at some point in my bucket list life). Once I am on the plane with my headphones on, I may look a bit anti-social in my own little pod world, but driving to the airport? I am usually game for conversation.
On my Uber trip back to O'Hare the other day, my driver began by asking, "What were you doing at this school? I didn't think they had school today." I told him that I was working with administrators and master teachers on helping teachers grow in their own practice. That must have been code for "Begin telling your passenger every belief you have about education, in general" because, the next thing I knew, he was asking, "Do you like the Common Core?" "Why are American schools so bad?" and "Why can't schools just let students learn at their own pace?" Wow. Did I mention this was when I was leaving work to go to the airport? I asked him to clarify his questions, like "What do you mean by American schools being 'bad'?" He went into a polite diatribe of how his son was in 2nd grade but already knew all his multiplication tables but the school was too busy trying to teach his son how to process 7 X 5 in three different ways. "It doesn't make any sense. I memorized all my facts and it worked for me," he continued, talking about growing up in his own country before moving to America when he was 12. I would begin trying to explain how learning how to reason through things can often be just as important a skill as memorization/rote learning. Each time I began, I would get halfway through a sentence, and he would completely interrupt with another question or another diatribe. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I quickly learned he didn't really want to learn anything new, he simply wanted me to hear what he had to rant, I mean say. So, I just listened.
Until...he stopped the rant and shared with me that he believes American schools must be doing something right as "most of the biggest and most successful companies are American-owned." We discussed that for a few moments, which means he listed many of the more successful companies, asked me why I thought that was, I would begin to answer, then he would interrupt me with more facts and figures and opinions. I was interested, so I googled profitable companies in the world and found this Fortune article. I also told him that I felt the definition of successful schools had to be clarified. Are we talking about schools that produce students who can pass achievement tests? Are we talking about schools that produce students who are well-rounded in their education and are able to participate with others in discussion? (hint-hint)
In other words, I wonder sometimes what we are looking for in "success". If we look at schools, for instance, in China versus US, what are the differences? Check out the article. It reminded me of reading Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) that emphasized the differences between Western culture and Eastern culture when it comes to education and values.
As the cab driver pulled up to the airport, I got out, and my driver handed me my suitcase. He thanked me for the "good talk" we had, and I smiled and told him I hoped for a long and successful school career for his son. As I started to walk away, he called out to me, "Hey! Don't stop working with teachers. It is very good what you are doing to help people in our country."