Hudson teacher inspired by last fall’s China visitHudson Middle School seventh-grade social studies teacher Mike Yell traveled to China recently and found the experience to be “incredible.” He led a group of teachers from around the United States in a People to People Citizen Ambassador Program.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
Hudson Middle School seventh-grade social studies teacher Mike Yell traveled to China recently and found the experience to be “incredible.”
He led a group of teachers from around the United States in a People to People Citizen Ambassador Program. People to People, founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, includes programs for students, professionals and others. The core belief is that direct interaction among ordinary citizens around the world can promote cultural understanding and world peace. Yell left for China Oct. 28 and returned Nov. 7, 2009.
“It was an incredible experience to walk on streets that have been in place for over 2,000 years,” Yell said. He was struck by a number of things during his visit. He found it especially interesting to talk to the Chinese people about government and the economy.
Despite being a Communist nation, the perception was that the people are very open when it comes to discussing issues – there was one significant difference, however.
“The people said, ‘We have freedom of speech,’” Yell said. “But the people made it clear that they do not have freedom of the press. You can talk about anything with your friends and neighbors, but anti-government ideas won’t get any further.”
He said, however, that the economy is rapidly moving in the direction of a market economy.
“One person told me, when it comes to the economy, ‘We are Communist in name only – we have a market economy,’” Yell said.
He said the Chinese people are intrigued by United States President Barack Obama and they are “positive” toward what he can accomplish.
Yell enjoyed talking to teachers in China and said it is ironic that educators in the United States look at the successes of schools in other countries, like China – while the Chinese are looking to emulate schools in the United States.
“The Chinese schools are goal- and test-oriented,” Yell said. “One Chinese professor said, ‘We can train them to do things, but we do not produce Nobel Laureates.’”
Regarding environmental concerns, Yell said the Chinese have an attitude that mirrors much of the world.
“They feel that the United States had its chance to build its economy inexpensively – using cheap energy and polluting the environment,” Yell said. “They don’t think it is fair that they are just beginning their industrial revolution and would have to operate under stricter environmental standards. They, like much of the underdeveloped countries in the world, believe the ‘rich countries’ should have to help them pay for their development.”
Yell began his trip in Beijing, then went on to Xi’an and completed the trip in Shanghai.
“We flew for each leg of the trip, so we never did get into the countryside,” Yell said. “I suspect there is a big difference in the standards of living. In the cities people seem to be fairly well off, but I understand there is a lot of poverty in the countryside.”
It appears that driving a car in China can be challenging. The country has an estimated population of 1.335 billion, or 20 percent of the world’s population. The United States, by comparison, has about 308 million people – China is nearly 4.5 times more populated.
“If you think about it, just 20 years ago most Chinese were riding bikes,” Yell said. “Now a big segment of the population owns cars. The driving is crazy – we saw people making u-turns in the middle of the freeway.”
He said there were Christian churches in China and there did not seem to be any persecution in a country that is estimated be up to 80 percent Buddhist.
Some of the geographic highlights of the trip included a stop at the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square near Beijing, a view of the Terracotta Soldiers near Xi’an and the business centers of Shanghai.
“The Terracotta Soldiers and Great Wall were among my highlights,” Yell said. “One person I talked to said ‘Xi’an is to see the China of 2000 years ago – go to Shanghai to see the future of China.’”
Regarding Tiananmen Square, one China native told Yell that “Mao was a lunatic, but started his efforts with good intentions.”
In discussions about the protestor who stood in front of government tanks in 1989, one native told Yell, “The protestor was right, but went about it the wrong way.” One older woman deflected the discussion, saying “that’s old stuff, I don’t care.”
Yell has been using the information gathered on the trip in his classroom, and others, at the middle school.
“It plays well into the HSD 2025,” Yell said. HSD 2025 is a Hudson School District initiative to bring more global learning into the classroom.
Because he was a team leader, his trip was paid for by the People to People organization. He also received a grant from the Education Foundation of Hudson for the purchase of artifacts to use in lesson plans. The Hudson School District paid for a substitute teacher during Yell’s absence.
Yell has been teaching in Hudson since 1990. He and his wife Ann have three adult children: Ryan, Alyssa and Aaron. Before coming to Hudson, he taught in Marshall and Holdingford, Minn.