In September 2007 when my son Max was 3 years old, he began attending a local preschool in downtown Shanghai.

Our decision to send Max to local school was initially driven by economics. Even with the extra ‘foreigner fees,’ tuition at local schools are a fraction of those at international schools, which most expat children attend. Besides saving us money, however, a local Chinese education promises certain highly attractive benefits. By the time he reaches elementary school, Max should be integrated into Shanghai culture, have a strong foundation in math and be near fluent in Mandarin (a language whose tones and subtleties my mind – despite enormous effort – seems already too old to acquire.)

What I hadn’t anticipated, however, was that Max’s attendance at a local kindergarten would offer insights into the culture of a changing China that no other research could provide.

The handful of foreigners, like me, who choose to put their kids in local schools are – like the first generation immigrants in the West- being guided by our kids into a deep cultural immersion that we ourselves will never achieve. We follow our children – who are our probes and translators – trying to keep up as best we can.

We are also at the cutting edge of an increasingly heated debate over global education. What is the right balance between rote learning and creativity? How much homework and discipline is too much? How much not enough? How much free time should children be allowed? Is pressure and high expectations good or bad for kids? Which system – Eastern or Western – will best prepare our children for the highly competitive future that they must face?

This blog is dedicated to tracking this cultural immersion and to our own — highly personal — engagements with these debates.

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