There is a Culture in the Gap

by Lily Liu.

The Educational Philosophies and Aspirations of the East and the West are Highly Consistent – To Make Individuals Become Better People.

As the principal of an internationalized bilingual school, I’m often asked about the key differences between the education at Dehong School and those within the traditional education system. My typical response centres around how I constantly strive to identify common educational objectives between these two different types of education systems, seeking the greatest common denominator. Through the lens of cultural respect and integration, I aim to drive practical educational initiatives. This approach ensures that we can “each display our strengths and share beauty together.” In my school, we persistently pursue a culturally inclusive atmosphere that maintains its distinct characteristics.

Firstly, we seek the convergence of educational goals. In terms of educational philosophy, the West says, “Education is not about filling a pail, but igniting a fire.” Meanwhile, the oldest Chinese educational text, “Xue Ji,” states, “Guide without forcing, encourage without constraining, open without revealing everything.” Regarding teaching methods, the West emphasises that “asking a question is more important than solving a problem,” while Confucius asserts, “Without the irritation of the passions, there is no awakening of the mind, without the difficulty of responsibilities, there is no increase of strength.” In terms of the role of teachers in education, the West declares, “Who you are is more important than what you teach,” while “Xue Ji” conveys, “Learning first leads to recognising one’s flaws, teaching first leads to recognising one’s limitations. Recognising one’s flaws leads to the ability for self-reflection, and recognising one’s limitations leads to the ability for self-improvement.” Confucius introduced the idea of ‘education without discrimination’ and ‘teaching according to students’ aptitude. Chinese people view ‘education without discrimination’ as an act of great compassion, while ‘teaching according to students’ aptitude is considered wisdom. Western educator Benjamin Bloom asserts, “Teachers should have confidence in each student’s development, provide ideal teaching for

each student, offer equal learning opportunities, allocate ample time and support for students in need, and ensure that each student receives personalised, well-suited education that nurtures their individual needs, promoting the development of each student. Every teacher desires respect, just as every individual wishes to be recognised.”

There are many such examples I could cite. Thus, we can confidently affirm that both Western and Eastern educational philosophies and aspirations align greatly. Their shared aim is to shape individuals into better people who can carry forward human civilization, positively influence society and inspire others with goodwill and justice. When we identify these commonalities, we discover the convergence point of school cultures, forming the basis for integration. Integration of values and ideas can occur through respect, acceptance, and understanding.

Seeking the Shared Beauty of Education, Openness, and Balance.

I believe that as a principal, the first step is to lead the staff in seeking common ground rather than making comparisons. The more we find the beauty in shared educational principles, the better we can draw upon them. Conversely, excessive comparison and criticism only lead to division, leaving employees in a state of conflict and confusion. I distinctly recall an incident in 2020 when I, along with a foreign teacher, shared Confucius’s educational ideas and Bloom’s educational theories with all the faculty members. Many Chinese and foreign teachers found this experience highly beneficial. People recognise that working in an international, multicultural school provides a unique advantage where each person’s cultural background acts as a window. With an open and learning-oriented mindset, viewing the school as a platform to explore global educational similarities and differences enriches one’s understanding of education and enhances teaching capabilities, revealing a broader landscape of educational perspectives.

Identifying common ground doesn’t mean ignoring differences. If discovering commonalities presents the possibility of shared beauty, then acknowledging differences allows us to celebrate diversity. ‘Shared beauty’ lays the foundation for development, while ‘celebrating diversity’ is the ultimate goal. In my view, culture is a mirror. Through others’ cultures, we see the strengths and characteristics of our own culture. Seizing these advantages and traits enables us to harness the strengths of diverse cultures in our work, allowing culture to serve education effectively.

For instance, Chinese people tend to see a forest as a whole, while Westerners focus on individual trees. Chinese people perceive the entire picture, the broader context, interrelationships, and fluctuations. On the other hand, Westerners notice the unique attributes of each tree, even its exclusivity. This difference stems from their analytical thinking. Chinese culture emphasises relationships and harmony among people, whereas Western culture places greater emphasis on individual expectations, presenting a significant contrast.

In an international school context, maintaining a balance between these two cultures is crucial. During the implementation of educational strategies, it’s essential to nurture each individual’s uniqueness while fostering collective spirit and teamwork. As a principal, my role is to consistently inspire and guide teachers in acknowledging the multicultural environment and promoting mutual respect, understanding and tolerance. Meanwhile, I also strive to help teachers from various cultural backgrounds to understand behaviours exhibited by teachers and parents from different cultural backgrounds. The principal should excel at finding equilibrium within this diverse cultural environment. Once commonalities are established and educational objectives are aligned, there will be flexible approaches to the pathway of education.

Lily Liu is Principal of Dehong Xi’an, China



作为一所国家化双语学校的校长,我被很多人问及的问题是“你觉得你在德闳所做的教育和你在体制内学校教育的最大区别是什么?”对于这个问题我的回答往往是:“我每一天的思考的核心就是如何在两种不同类型的学校当中寻找教育目标的共同点,寻求最大公约数。在多种文化的尊重,融合当中去推动实际的教育教学工作。中国有句古语说的好,‘君子和而不同,小人同而不和’,只有这样才能‘各美其美,美美与共’。在我的学校里我们始终在追求一种既不丢失本文化特色又能包容的文化氛围。我们首先寻找教育目标的共同之处。 教育理念方面,西方说‘教育是点燃一团火,而不是灌满一桶水。Education is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket of water’,中国最早的教育著作《学记》中说‘道而弗牵,强而弗抑,开而弗达’,在教育方法上,西方说‘问一个问题比解决一个问题更重要’,孔子说‘不愤不启,不悱不发’。关于教师在教育教学当中的作用,西方说‘你是谁比你教什么更重要’。 学记说‘学然后知不足,教然后知困。知不足,然后能自反也;知困然后能自强也‘。孔子提出‘有教无类,因材施教’。中国人认为有教无类是大爱,因材施教是智慧。西方教育家布鲁姆认为教师对每个学生的发展充满信心,并为每个学生提供理想的教学,提供均等的学习机会,为需要帮助的学生提供充足的时间和帮助,让每个学生都得到理想的、适合自己个性需要的教学,让每个学生都得到发展。每一位教师都希望被尊重。每一个人都希望被看到价值”, 诸如此类。我还可以列出很多的例子,所以我们可以肯定地说,无论西方还是东方的教育理念和教育追求是高度一致的,那就是让人成为更好的人,让每一个人能够成为传承人类文明、并且以善意和正义影响和鼓舞他人和社会的人,当我们寻找到了共同点,我们才找到了学校文化的融合点,才有了融合的基础。只有尊重,接纳和理解才有对话融合的可能。 


校长首先要带着员工去寻找共同点,而不是比较。越是寻找共同的教育之美,就越是借鉴的好。相反,越是比较和批判,越是撕裂,会让所有的员工处于矛盾和迷茫状态。我清晰地记得2020年我与一名外教一起给全体教职工分享孔子的教育思想和布鲁姆教育理论时,很多中外教都觉得十分获益,大家都认为实际上在一所国际化的、多文化学校做教育与在一所单一的文化学校相比,最大的优势就是每个人教育教学行为背后的文化都是一扇窗户,只要你带着开放的心态,学习的心态,把这样的学校当作探索世界教育异同的平台,你将极大地丰富你对教育的认知,提升你的教育能力。你可以看到更美的教育风景。 找到了共同点,不是弃不同点于不顾。如果说找到共同点让我们看到了美美与共的可能性的话,那么找到了不同点就可以做到各美其美。“美美与共”是发展的基础,“各美其美”是发展的目标。我认为文化是一面镜子,通过他人的文化更能看到自己文化的优势和特征。抓住了这个优势和特征就可以在工作中发挥多种文化的优势,让文化为学校的教育教学服务。 例如中国人容易看到一片森林,西方人容易看到一棵一棵的树,中国人可以看见整体,看见全局,看见所有的关联性,看见所有的这种变化性;西方人容易看到每一棵树,它的独特的特性,它的与众不同的特性,甚至可以看到它的排他性,这是两种分析思维的一个差异。中国人关注关系,关注的是人与人之间的和谐共处。相对而言,西方人更多强调个人的期望,所以这也是一个很大的不同的维度。 在一所国际化的学校里要注重多种文化的平衡。在教育教学实施的过程中既要能够把握每一个孩子的独特性,扬其所长,又要培养学生的集体主义精神和团队意识。 作为校长要做的就是不断地启发引导老师,我们工作在一所多文化的环境中,需要互相尊重,理解和包容。同时也需要通过各种方式让不同文化背景的老师了解不同文化背景下的所期待的教师行为和家长行为。 校长更需要在多种文化中找到平衡。我认为不同文化的共同点找到之后,教育的目标一致了,路径问题可以灵活处理。

刘丽君 西安曲江德闳学校校长

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4 thoughts on “<strong><br>There is a Culture in the Gap</strong>”

  1. Lily校长对中西方文化的剖析让人印象深刻,任何一所国际学校都无法忽视文化差异,避免文化交流与融合;“求同存异“ ”美美与共“”开放与平衡“正是教育智慧的体现。透过您的文笔,我感受到西安德闳以及您作为校长的教育理念,领导管理风格,我相信每个家长都会乐于让孩子成长在这样的文化氛围浓厚的,合作共赢的校园中!

  2. As part of the “Westerner” in the article, I can’t agree more with Lily, her opinions are very inclusive, which is an essential quality for an international principal. Meanwhile, I am really happy to read that there are so many common points between Chinese and International education philosophies. To appreciate each other, to cooperate, to develop and educate!

  3. This is such a core issue in international education. My critical question is how do we as leaders get the balance right. In my school we talk about the ‘local root that bears international fruit’. I sometimes hear talk about a ‘fusion’ curriculum, but I worry that this doesn’t allow for the full effectiveness of the distinctive components of the complex and interconnected curricula, skilful international school leaders evolve. I wonder if ‘harmony’ between the local and the international is a more meaningful expression of this?

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