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Papers & Essays

Schooling for an Emancipated Society or for a Disciplined Society?


Our thesis "wishing for dragon children" reports the results of a quasi-ethnographic, relational study of differences and similarities in the education of children in Sichuan Province (China) and the State of Victoria (Australia). The thesis locates parental expectations and the schooling experiences of children in both Provinces/States as expressions of and responses to policy-driven reforms occurring in each country. While these reforms share a common impetus in contemporary transitions in globalisation, but they are having different consequences locally.

This paper reports on the differences and similarities between schools in Sichuan and Victoria. In order to avoid skewing the results of this investigation, in China two primary schools from a general city, Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province and a small town, Deyang near Chengdu, were selected. They are Chengdu Jingjiang Primary School and Deyang East Wind Primary School. This was in preference to selecting schools from either highly developed cities whose standards would most likely surpass that of these Australian counterparts or undeveloped cities in remote areas which would necessarily be far behind in such comparisons. In Australia, the biggest classification among primary schools is between private and public. Thus one school selected was from the public sector (Brennan Primary School) and one from the private sector (Gilbert Primary School). Both schools are located in the State of Victoria. It was important to select two schools from each country as case sites in order to study more than a single case of school education.

This research tests Foucault's (1980) concept of power-knowledge by examining whether the reform of schools in either Province/State is contributing to the formation of an emancipated society, a disciplined society or something else. This paper explores the exercise of power upon students through various school practices ranging from timetabling, the organisation of space, assessment and examination procedures, and classroom work and school rules. Here it is argued that schooling is used to generate both disciplinary and emancipatory forms of societies, albeit to markedly different degrees. Thus it has been necessary to anticipate and discern contradictions and contestations within the disciplinary and emancipatory features of schooling in both countries. Differences and similarities in cultural backgrounds are foregrounded to aid understanding of the possibilities for change and continuity. This is complemented by an analysis and interpretation of data from school observations in and focus group interviews with teachers. The disciplinary and emancipatory features manifest in the educational consequences in these two cultural settings and political systems are juxtaposed to compare similarities and differences. This relational analysis and interpretation takes a Foucauldian theoretical perspective as its point of departure (Foucault 1979, 1980).

Comparing Schooling in Sichuan and Victoria

In this section, the disciplinary and emancipatory features of schooling are drawn from school observations and focus group interview with teachers. The section has been structured around three issues: a) time, space and posture; b) the role of examinations; and c) different ways of speaking. The specific cultural contexts provide the sites within which these disciplinary and emancipatory features are constituted.

Time, Space and Posture

Differences and Similarities

Sichuan schools operate for longer hours each day than do those in Victoria. Further, Sichuan pupils, unlike their Victoria counterparts, almost have no free time to play in their school grounds. In the morning, Sichuan pupils have to hurry school to start their morning self-study program at 7:20 am. But in Victoria schools started at 9:00 am. Even when the school does not organise morning self-study in Sichuan, the pupils stay in their classrooms once they arrive, waiting for lessons to begin at 8:00 am, rather than going outside to play. Victorian pupils have to go to the playground to play if they arrive at school early because classrooms are locked until the class starts. Normally there were four lessons in the morning in Sichuan schools, not including morning self-study, followed by two lessons in the afternoon, once again not including after-school tutoring. Each lesson was scheduled for forty minutes. The break time between classes of ten minutes was just enough for pupils to go to the toilet. There was a twenty minutes break in the morning after the second lesson, but the pupils had to stay in their classroom to do eye massages or line up in the playground to do "setting-up" exercises. During the two-hour lunch break, between 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm, most pupils took naps either in the school or at home after they had eaten lunch. When the school finished at 4:00 pm, most pupils attended tutoring sessions either in the school or at another school, or went home to do their homework. The playground was an 'uncovered classroom' and not a place for free play. In the Victorian schools, the pupils had a thirty-minute break time at 10:45 am, and a one-hour lunch break beginning at 1:00 pm. After lunch there was one more lesson and then the school day finished at 3:30 pm. These Victorian pupils had considerable playtime: before classes began at 9:00 am, all other break times throughout the day and after school finished at 3:30 pm.

In Sichuan's classrooms, the desks with their attached benches were fixed in rows, always facing toward the blackboard at the front of the room. Pupils' seats were also fixed in place. Classrooms in Victorian schools were noticeably different. The positions of desks appeared to be random and they could be moved at any time. There were no fixed seats for the pupils; they seemed to select their seats randomly. Most of the time, Sichuan pupils were asked to sit up straight in their seats for each forty-minute lesson. Unless the teacher gave permission there was no standing, walking or speaking. When pupils were asked to hand in their work, either homework or classwork, they passed it from the back to the front, without standing, walking or talking. In Victorian schools, for most lessons the teacher gave ten to fifteen minutes of instruction followed by pupils doing assigned exercises by themselves. After some fifteen to twenty minutes, they came back to the teacher. The teacher either talked about each pupil's work one by one or taught a new topic. Each class was structured to repeat this process. The pupils kept moving about the classroom; sometimes they gathered on the floor to listen to the teacher, and sometimes they sat at their desks to do their activities. During the practice time, the pupils spoke, stood or walked without their teacher's permission. During the direct instruction teaching time, the pupils still kept changing their sitting postures, largely because it is uncomfortable sitting on a carpeted floor for too long. But in some lessons, such as the foreign language class observed at Gilbert Primary School of Victoria, pupils were asked to sit in their seat throughout the one hour lesson with no standing, walking or talking without their teacher's permission.

The Influence of Different Cultural Contexts

In China there are two major traditions that inform ideas about education (Jing 1990, pp. 40 - 51). One is Taoism's "aesthetic education", Le Jiao. The basic idea of Le Jiao is to grow and extend individual potentialities through pleasurable experiences of education. The other tradition is Confucianism's "moral education", Li Jiao. The basic idea of Li Jiao is to cultivate students' moral character to produce subjects of governable families and a governable nation. The basic difference between for these two educational ideas are that Taoism is concerned with liberating or emancipating students' capacities, while Confucianism is aimed at constraining or disciplining students' instinct (Jing 1990, p. 46).

In China, the choice between these competing educational traditions depends on the views of the country's rulers (Jing 1990, p. 62). In other words, education is a tool that serves politics, irrespective of whether it is in China, Australia or the USA. Not surprisingly, Confucianism's moral education has found favour in feudal monarch's eyes, much more so than Taoism's aesthetic education. Based on Confucianism's moral education, the monarchs set up Civil Service Examination System as a way to ostensibly select or discipline officials for the imperial bureaucracy, but also to serve as an effective means of social control. Education in China was dominated for over two thousand years by the Civil Service Examination System and in some dynasties Confucianism became the only knowledge system accepted by the monarchs (Wang, Chen and Zhou 2000, pp. 55 - 61).

The Civil Service Examination System led Chinese parents to place a high value on their children studying hard in order to become government officials. There are many sayings that reflect and support this tradition, such as, "Xue er you ze shi" (Study well to be an official), "Shao zhuang bu lu li, lao da tu shang bei" (If one does not exert oneself in youth, one will regret it in old age). There are also many traditional sayings to encourage children to engage in the tedious rituals of learning, such as "Shu zhong zi you huang jin wu, shu zhong zi you yan ru yu" (You can get golden dwellings and beautiful ladies from the books). Within the Confucian tradition that prevails in China, studying is considered a bitter process characterised by hard work: "Ku, ku, ku, bu ku ru he tong jin gu" (Suffering, suffering, suffering, without suffering, you won't learn anything about the past and present); "Xue hai wu ya ku zuo zhou" (The sea of knowledge is endless, the hard-working spirit is the only vessel).

Students in China are expected to be tempered under arduous conditions and to make painstaking efforts to learn. Studying means suffering, it is not associated with comfort, pleasure let alone play. "Tou xun liang, zhui ci gu" (Tie the hair to the beam and prick the thigh) is a typical aphorism used to remind students, from ancient times to the present, of the need to suffer for their education. This aphorism comes from a story about how a successful scholar named Su Qin in the Warring State Period (475 B.C. - 221 B.C.) studied. In order to study hard both day and night, he tied his hair to a beam and used an awl to prick his thigh, to stimulate himself so that he might keep awake. Using this disciplinary mechanism meant he would not daydream or nod off to sleep. Eventually he achieved great success, becoming Prime Minister of each of the six states at the same time. According to this tradition, pupils cannot expect enjoyment from school, but must make considerable bodily sacrifices. Hence sitting in classroom motionlessly during a forty-minute lesson is reasonable and acceptable to pupils, teachers and parents in Sichuan schools.

In Australia, schooling has, until recently at least been influenced significantly by liberal progressive views of education. Just over a decade ago, Foster and Harman (1992, p. 213) was able to characterise the purpose of education as follows:

First, education must take into account change and innovation and prepare the young for the 'new' culture of the future. Thus 'education for life' becomes a key guiding force. Second, education must facilitate the growth and development of individual potentialities.

Such an approach to education, which many are trying to hold onto, demands that schools focus on the each pupil as a person rather than the teacher and the subject matter. Hence the adoption of a rhetoric 'child-centred' education stands in opposition to an economic reductionist approach. The emphasis is on students being involved in decision-making about all kinds of issues relating to their classroom learning including the subject matter to be taught. A basic principle in Victoria is, as teacher Ms Isabella said in an interview, "kids need to be kids" (Interviewed on May 8, 2002). This meant that children's desire for pleasure was used as a powerful motivating force in enhancing their learning to a greater degree than was apparent in Sichuan.

Because of the different cultural backgrounds, the Victorian schools at least appeared to be more convivial and humane than the Sichuan schools. This was evident from the school observations where the children had much more pleasure, both inside and outside the classroom. This helped the children acquire discourses of interest to them rather than to learn a discourse passively. For instance, in the music lesson at Brennan Primary School, Mr Wilkinson used his humorous operatic tone to make a very lively and enjoyable class. Being amused, the children were interested in practicing singing and easily acquired the knowledge of opera that Wilkinson planned to teach them. This resonates with Nelson's (2001, n.p.) arguments that discourses are mastered through acquisition, rather than direct instruction. Wilkinson promoted a high level of pupil engagement in his class. In return, the pupils consciously learnt more about what he tried to teach.

There was not as much suffering as in Sichuan. Children had much more freedom to change their sitting postures during class time in Victoria schools, rather than remaining in the same posture for forty-minutes as in Sichuan schools. The Victorian children's fondness for being active was much more respected relative to that of the children in Sichuan. However, there was still discipline in Victoria. Social power was exercised by various means. This included prohibiting children talking, expressing impatience when not to listening teachers, and governing the entry and exit of classrooms at certain times.

Interpretation of These Features

Throughout the micro-practices of schooling, in the minutiae of the daily life of these institutions, the negative and positive elements of social power were evident. Schools in both Sichuan and Victoria exercised disciplinary power by regulating the work of teachers and pupils producing selected technical skills, dispositions, cultural formations and political opportunities. As Symes and Preston (1997, p. 32) argue

education is a (if not the) disciplinary science, one concerned with the observation and regulation of human beings, with the incarceration and binding of the subject, with the production of identity, particularly as it relates to the area of their desires, physical dispositions and cognitive power. The organisation and practices of the school, even its architecture, all reflect this disciplinary function.

Schooling in both these Provinces/States works as a disciplinary power to change pupil behaviour through the use of timetables, architecture and posture. Given the disciplinary function of schooling, the pupils (and teachers) use of time for cultural and natural purposes was similarly regulated. The school timetable, Symes and Preston (1997, p. 186) argue, operates as a mechanism of "domination, [which] impresses itself upon the student's whole body, dominating not its mental pre-occupations, but also physical ones, like bowel movements, which are supposed to occur only during recess". The disciplinary function of the school timetable was evident in both Sichuan and Victoria schools. In Sichuan schools, there was almost no free time at all. The timetable was almost a light switch that controlled both pupils' mental movements and physical ones, including bowel movements. For example, in the morning at Jingjiang Primary School of Sichuan, before the start of the class, both the teacher and the pupils patiently waited for the bell to ring as an order. When the bell was rung, like 'switch' turned on, they immediately became active. Hence the pupil's daily routines were substantially regulated by the school timetable. As Symes and Preston (1997, p. 185) argue, the timetable "is the school's capillary system, through which its various practices and its power are circulated and reticulated".

In the Victorian schools, teachers and pupils were not so strict in following the timetable as occurred in the Sichuan schools. In the morning when everybody entered the classroom after the bell rang, neither teacher nor pupils hurried to start the lesson. Instead, they casually made preparations for the day's schooling, arranging the classroom's chairs and tables, collecting exercise books and talking to the teacher about their homework. However, both teachers and pupils generally obeyed the school timetable. This was evident on a Friday afternoon at Gilbert Primary School. Even though the pupils had packed their school bags in eagerness to go home, the teacher dared not release them because it was too early for their schooling to be finished. No matter whether the teacher wanted or not, she disciplined herself and her pupils by reading a story to "kill the time". Those who behaved with impatience during the story reading were punished by having to stay with longer after their peers were finally dismissed.

The disciplinary function of architecture is evident in both Sichuan and Victorian schools. In the Sichuan schools the classrooms were almost cages where the pupils spent most of their day. The playgrounds were places for them to do collectively orchestrated activities, rather than for free play. The computer room in Deyang Primary School was specifically designed to ensure that the teacher could watch every pupil. The monitor for each of the computers was under the platform of each desk, covered with glass. The pupils watched the monitors through the glass on the platform and the teacher was able to watch every pupil. This was in preference to leaving the monitors on top of the platforms which would obstruct the teacher's capacity to view every pupil. Moreover, the teacher was able to know which pupil had hit a wrong key through the feedback loop into his computer. Regarding the architecture of schools, their classrooms and playgrounds, Symes and Preston (1997, p. 206) argue that they "tend to stress the need to be able to watch students, and to take in their activities at a single glance or gaze". These disciplinary technologies are used to make the school population tractable and manipulable, thereby assisting in the establishment of a disciplinary society.

In Victorian schools, the pupils did not stay in their classrooms during recess like their counterparts in Sichuan. Nevertheless, they were enclosed within the boundaries of the school during this time, being always subject to the machinery of its gaze as teachers patrolled the grounds. Before classes started in the morning, during recess, and when school finished in the afternoon, the classrooms were always locked, forcing the pupils to stay in the playgrounds. Thus the pupils' daily routines in both Sichuan and Victoria were easily watched at a single glance or gaze. One of the instruments of discipline is this capacity to observe (Nelson 2000, p. 158).

Sichuan pupils had to sit in classrooms with a fixed posture throughout their forty-minute lessons. The classroom aided in securing their obedience and submission. Having been tamed in school they were more likely to accept without question the disciplinary society. In Victorian schools, most of the time children were seemingly free to change their postures in the class. But there was still at least one class where the pupils were asked to remain in the same position throughout the whole class, to "support particular definitions of subjectivity" (Symes and Preston 1997, p. 216). This posture control Symes and Preston (1997, p. 216) argue "is an important feature of the school's anatomo-politics, [being] the best way to secure obedience and submission, initially in the school and then generally within society".

The Role of Examinations

Differences and Similarities

Sichuan pupils have huge pressure on them to study. The evidence below, based on focus group interviews with Sichuan schoolteachers, reveals that these pressures are mainly driven by various examination requirements. During the focus group interview with teachers from Deyang East Wind Primary School, the researcher explained the schooling system in Australia and then invited the teachers to comment. The Deputy Principal Ms Wei explained the situation in their school:

It is difficult for us to carry out the policy of "Lightening the Study Burden of Students", as there are so many examinations for pupils. Sometimes we need to send our pupils to participate in examinations with other schools' pupils, for competitions or for inspection by authorities. Sometimes we even need to send our pupils to Chengdu to do examinations. So the school has to deal with all kinds of examinations. The examinations are the only criterion used to judge the school and teachers' work by parents, education authorities and society. It is a contract employment system for both principals and teachers, [their continuing employment depends on students' success in examinations]. The principal employs a classroom teacher for each class and if the class does not perform well in all the examinations, that teacher would be fired. The classroom teacher has the authority to employ teachers to teach all subjects for the class and if students from the class do not perform well in the examinations of a subject, the subject teacher would be fired. If most students in the school do not perform well in all the examinations, the authorities would fire the principal. Therefore both principals and teachers are under so much pressure from this system of examinations. It is difficult for both teachers and school to reduce pupils' study burden.

We can not implement the "Quality Education" reform programs in the Year Six classes [the graduating classes], because the pupils are facing examinations for admission to junior middle school (Interviewed on May 11, 2001).

Ms Wei has explained the critical situation in the school, that examinations dominated education, disciplining the work of the principal, class and subject teachers. The disciplinary power of the examination system and its power to constrain necessary educational reforms emerged as the central topic in the focus group interview. Most teachers, including older teachers, like Ms Yang, still support the tradition of regarding study as suffering. However, they also believed in the need for reform, to shift from exam-driven pedagogy toward "Quality Education". It was, however, very difficult to carry out this reform under the disciplinary power of the examination system. The examination system dominates all aspects of schooling.

Other teachers were then encouraged to talk. Ms Yang, a Native Language teacher, made the following comments:

I do not believe that the Western pedagogy is perfect. Recently I read a magazine article that said that the Americans and British are also reviewing their own pedagogy. They realised that if the study environment is too relaxed, some students who have potential to be academically successful could miss study opportunities and be wasted. However, in China, the study environment is too tough with such huge pressures. No matter if a student has the potential to be academically successful or not, all the students are put into same mould to be "filled" with knowledge. We need to teach students in accordance with their aptitude, strengthen students' capability for self-teaching, and motivate their interest in study. Teachers should try their best to empower pupils to participate in discussions (Interviewed on May 11, 2001).

Ms Yang was over fifty years old. As an experienced teacher, she understood that the child is always a being with activities of her or his own which are present, urgent and do not require being 'induced,' 'drawn out,' or 'developed' (Dewey 1895, cited in Hardie 1969, p. 115). The work of the educator, whether parent or teacher, said Ms Yang, consists in ascertaining the pupil's interests, and in connecting these with appropriate learning activities, by furnishing them with relevant opportunities and conditions. Even Confucius had the idea that teaching should be in accordance with students' aptitude. However, it was almost impossible for these teachers to do this as they laboured under conditions where examinations dominated education:

We want to totally change our pedagogy, but we are facing inspection by education authorities based on the results of pupils' examinations. This limits our capacity for change. If the marks for the examinations are too low, we will be fired. No matter how much change might be needed, we can not move beyond the requirements set by examinations (Interviewed on May 11, 2001).

Ms Yang then summed up her account of the disciplinary power of examination pressures in China:

The pupils have pressure for admission to junior middle school; the junior middle school students have pressure for admission to high school; the high school students have pressure for admission to university (Interviewed on May 11, 2001).

At last she sighed with feeling about the difficult situation for teachers in China working under the gaze of an examination driven system of surveillance:

We can only try our best to carry out the [reform of] "Quality Education", but it is very difficult to do so. This generation of teachers is in a dilemma: if we carry out the reform, there are pressures from tradition; if we keep changeless, there is a danger of falling behind the trend (Interviewed on May 11, 2001).

These accounts offer some insights to help explain the lessons observed at Deyang East Wing Primary School. One teacher, Ms Huang, organised an interesting game to help her pupils to learn the functions of each punctation mark in a Native Language lesson. Her active teaching was somewhat similar to that practised in the Victorian schools where students' interests were used to guide the selection of what is taught and to motivate their learning. Ms Huang believed that such an interesting game would help stimulate students' interests and enhance their learning engagement. However, she also said that they could not engage in such an approach to teaching and learning very often because there was not enough time. In particular, it took too much time for both teachers and pupils to do the necessary preparation. Also it did not guarantee coverage of the required curriculum content, so the teachers could not be assured of the timely completion of all study tasks required in the syllabus. If they carried on with such teaching strategies, the students' ability to deal with examinations would be reduced. The teachers themselves, quite literally could not afford this; their future employment could be jeopardised.

There are not as many examinations or competitions in Victorian schools as there are in Sichuan schools. During an interview with a teacher, Ms Isabella from Brennan Primary School, she explained the examination system in Victorian schools. Tests are not supposed to be used to discipline either teachers or pupils, but to measure pupils' learning. Moreover, tests are not supposed to be the only means used to do this. She disagreed with the examination system in China because it put too much pressure on pupils and teachers:

At primary level, "kids need to be kids". They need to do many out of school activities, to learn to relate people. As long as kids do their best and as long as they are happy, as a parent, that's what I want [for my own children] (Interviewed on May 8, 2002).

However, she added that the Victorian State Government has set new standards to assess student performance to make sure schools are achieving its expectations. Victorian schools are now working out how teachers will meet these standards, which are becoming higher compared with records of past performance.

The Influence of Different Cultural Contexts

Since the time when China's ancient monarchs established the Civil Service Examination System to select officials to staff the imperial bureaucracy, 'taking examinations for scholarly honour and official rank' has become a part of the day-to-day life of Chinese people. This is not just in schools, but ordinary people also regard it as an important goal of life. In many operas and works of literature stories relating to 'taking examinations for scholarly honour and official rank' are frequently told. The popular classic opera, Xi Xiang Ji (A Story of the West - Wing Room), and the popular classic novel, Hong Lou Meng (A Dream of Red Mansions) are but two examples. In day-to-day life when people describe somebody in hurry, they say, "Jiu xiang yao qu gan kao yi yang" (S/he is in such a hurry that s/he must going to take the Civil Service Examination).

In Australia, since the influence of the progressive views on education, teaching methods are considered 'educative' only if they involve learning from experience and/or through discovery, rather than learning from what is imposed for doing a test (Foster and Harman 1992, p. 213). However, since the 1980s government ordained economic imperatives have started to impact on all levels of education. Thus the authorities have attempted to establish higher standards in existing subjects, particularly in those related to vocational and economic skills. The government's economic imperatives now drive Australian schooling (Vick 2001, p. 48). Schools are increasingly being subjected to examinations by the authorities requiring shifts in teacher and pupil behaviour and disposition.

Interpreting the Role of Examination

The Civil Service Examination in ancient China was not only a key feature of Chinese traditional culture, but the examination culture remains a key mechanism for forming the subjects of a disciplinary society. Education is always centred on 'normalising judgment' (Symes and Preston 1997, p. 31). Education in ancient China was dominated by examinations used to normalise and judge "good" teaching practice. Most government officials, ranging from the county level (xian) upward, had to be selected through examinations. Today the content of these examinations is fixed and limited by the power of the Chinese Communist authorities while drawing on the privilege standing behind the tradition of the Confucian canon (Pepper 1991, p. 5). Meanwhile the examinations are open to anybody. No matter which social class s/he comes from, they all compete in a multitude of examinations. Thus examinations and competitions have become a disciplining technology for "normalising" citizen/worker formation in China (Xu 1997; Zhu 1992).

In the Sichuan schools examinations also play a role in 'normalising' and judging subjects, both teachers and pupils. The Sichuan pupils are being constantly examined. Their learning, their desire to subject themselves to the 'regime of truth', is frequently tested. To ensure that they express their imaginings about "communist" ideology Chinese Communist authorities fully and explicitly authenticated these examinations. Thus learning well the 'regime of truth' to ensure good examination results is a common goal for all pupils to pursue. This leads them to form themselves into "normal" subjects of China and its political and economic interests. Thus examinations as a 'technology of subjectivity' (Symes and Preston 1997, p. 223) are one of the instruments of disciplinary power used by the state (Jones 1990, p. 95). They are cost efficient and apparently effective in establishing normality in modern China. Examinations are imagined to be an efficient vehicle which the state can use to ensure that individuals exhibit the "normalised" patterns of cognitive and physical development required by the Communist authorities.

Ms Wei and Ms Yang described examinations in Sichuan primary schools. Sichuan pupils are constantly being examined. These tests determine if they are governable in accordance with the prevailing 'regime of truth', which is not only clear and definite in the subject of politics, but also embedded in other subjects. According to official Chinese curriculum policies such as The New Curriculum Strategies for the Twenty-First Century Middle School and Primary School (Educational Research Office of Shanghai Education Committee 1999) and Walking into the New Curriculum (Zhu 2002), politics continues to be a compulsory subject at all levels of schooling and examinations, including the examinations for university entry. In scientific subjects, such as physics, chemistry and biology, teachers are to guide students to use a "dialectical materialist" point of view for teaching and learning. This is the basic communist philosophy which holds that people's material or physical conditions of existence shape their consciousness, rather than spiritual values which are held to be distractions. Its basic ideas are that human beings depend on material conditions for their productivity; "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness" (Marx, cited in Crotty 1998, pp. 119 - 120).

Thus, this education is meant to lead to the formation of a docile, useful and practical citizenry under the communist authorities. The results of examinations are used to classify each pupil according to different levels and identify each pupil's sense of who they should truly be. Examinations create substantial pressure on pupils and teachers alike. They stay in their classrooms all the time under the power of hierarchical observation provided via the examination system. In China examinations are "a central part of the schooling process, one which combines the observing hierarchy with the normalising judgement" (Symes and Preston 1997, p. 234).

The pupils are pressured to perform well in examinations by both schools and society in many and varied ways. Those who do well in the examinations are always regarded as good pupils to be awarded with honours by schools, parents and society. They are regarded as having brilliant prospects for being admitted into higher levels of education or into getting better employment. This reinforcement of the "true self" produces subjects generally suited to control by communist authorities. This resonates with Marshall's argument (1992, p. 15) that examination "determines not only whether a person is governable - that is, likely to lead a docile, useful, and practical life - but also because it identifies to the individual the 'true' self, whereby (s)he becomes classified as an object in various ways for others and is tied to the 'true' self as a subjected or politically dominated being".

However, if power is everywhere, so too is resistance (Olafson and Field 2003, n.p.). This power of effecting 'normalising judgment' through examination has been accompanied by resistance in China. The history of the Civil Examination System is also the history of ordinary people's consistent rebelling against feudal monarchs' 'normalisation'. In modern China, the Communist authorities believe that they have strengthened the state apparatus for normalisation much more than ancient monarchs, therefore they expect "zero resistance". However, even under Mao's rule of bloody red terror, there were still many people risking their lives to resist Mao's tyranny. For instance, a young man Yu Lejing distributed his leaflets to challenge Mao's hierarchy in 1966. In jail he had to choose between the death penalty and pleading guilty, he chose the former and was cruelly killed. Another of Mao's challengers, Ms Zhang Zhixin, had her chin cut before she was executed, in order to stop her resistance by shouting anti-Mao's statement in the execution ground (Wen 1994, pp. 556 - 619). Since Mao died and the National Uniting Examination System (Gaokao) for university entrance was reintroduced in 1977, the examination system has again played an important role in 'normalising judgement'. Nevertheless, this power of 'normalising judgement' did not work as well as the authorities expected. There were continuing university student movements against disciplined society throughout the 1980s. The two great student movements in 1986 and 1989 were joint actions by university students throughout China, the elite products of this normalising regime. The 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement also aroused support from the mass of ordinary people.

In Australia, examinations also play a role changing pupil behaviour, even though there are not as many examinations as in China. In order to maintain an exploitative capitalist economy based on a competitive market, the authorities attempt to establish "standards" in subjects, particularly related to the vocational skills needed for the capitalist economy. The imperatives of global/local capitalism operate on and drive Australian schools (Vick 2001, p. 48). Schools have to conduct examinations to meet the authorities' "standards" or "regime of truth" and pupils are taught how to perform well in these examinations. Their results in these examinations determine whether a pupil is governable by the capitalist system. Examinations also identify the individual's 'true' self, where pupils are tied to being subjected or dominated by and for neo-conservative political interests.

Different Ways of Speaking

Differences and Similarities

During fieldwork in the schools, the researcher was able to observe student 'speeches' in the front of class in Sichuan and Victoria. In Chengdu Jingjiang Primary School, while waiting for the class to begin, the monitor encouraged some pupils to speak to the class. One girl told present a story from the day's news. She introduced her story by highlighting the lesson or moral everyone should learn and act on:

Today I am going to tell everybody a story. This story should remind everybody that during holiday time, everybody must be careful and enhance our vigilance...(Observed on May 19, 2001).

This introduction replicated the pedagogical imperative informing adult approaches when speaking to children. She then told a story about how some business people were cheated. These adult approaches to public speaking went throughout her story telling. She concluded her speech thus: "After hearing this story, I wish that everybody could be careful and avoid being cheated" (Observed on May 19, 2001).

This speech was in the genre typically associated with an adult pedagogical mode of address. Following the girl, a boy read a scientific story. While the pupils listened, they looked as though they had no interest in such kind of storytelling and regarded it as just a ritualised class procedure. Some of them even refused to turn their faces to the speaker.

In a speech competition at Deyang residential community the researcher observed, the young students performed in a similar way. Each recited a memorised story as their mode of making a speech. The contents of the speeches eulogised how great the Chinese Communist Party is for having created a heaven in China. This real world adult genre might be thought to contradict the national schooling goals for China, namely to give students the capacity for maintaining mental health and deal with frustration as appropriate to one's age group" (Educational Research Office of Shanghai Education Committee 1999, p. 6). The Communist authorities always encourage students to believe that they live in a peaceful and happy heaven under their rule and refuse to let them know anything about the evil aspects of the state or society. The description of the "Communist Heaven" as well as the eulogy for the creators of this "Heaven" are embedded in curriculum. They were constantly taught by teachers and recited by students. This raises the question of how the teachers might build up students' capacity to deal with any frustrations given that they are supposed to be living in "Heaven". If the students already lived in heaven, from where do the frustrations come? In fact, this strategy does not work well; for not all students believe in the existence of the "Communist Heaven", nor has it fostered their capacity to deal with un-heavenly frustrations. The university student movements of the 1980s, especially the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, showed that Chinese students did not believe they were living in "Heaven" and that they would resist if they were frustrated by a corrupt society.

At Melbourne's Brennan Primary School, the researcher observed a 'Show and Tell' teaching/learning session, itself very much a "ritual" in the negative sense of that word. The children went to front of the class one by one to tell stories about what they did on the weekend. A boy David sat in front to tell his experience assembling a toy train from fragmentary parts while the rest of the children sat in a circle, listening with interest. The teacher did not interrupt too much, letting the children use their own words to speak. David showed the instruction book to tell how he did it step by step. Eventually the locomotive was connected with a carriage by a "tail". David showed the black tail to everybody, "This is a magnet, so they could connect together. (He showed an extra tail to the class) There should be one tail on the carriage's back, but I did not put it on (put the tail aside)" (Observed on November 14, 2001). At the question time, a girl asked why he didn't put the extra tail on the back of the carriage. He answered, "I just liked it to be like this" (Observed on November 14, 2001). In order to prove that he has spent a number of days in assembling the train, David opened the cover of the locomotive and the carriage to show that there are also many things inside the train, including goods and passengers. He did not copy an adults' tone to speak and did not have a good argument as to why he did not put the extra tail on the back of the carriage. However, he has experienced in using his own words to describe, evaluate and name objects in his own world and successfully performed a cognitive act that demanded imagination, symbolism and speech.

The influence of different cultural contexts

Regarding language development in China, there have been criticisms that Chinese teachers correct children's speech too often and that children passively copy the manner of teachers or public speakers regarded as the standard way of speaking. Tobin, Wu and Davidson (1989, pp. 189 - 191) observed that in China

the emphasis in language development is on enunciation, diction, memorisation, and self-confidence in speaking and performing.

Chinese teachers frequently correct children's mispronunciations and misusage and encourage them to learn public speaking as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

As reported above, when speaking formally to their classmates, the Sichuan school children had to address issues of social or public significance and to do so in a manner that exhorted their peers to reflect and act morally or wisely. Trivial, mundane personal recounts were not privileged in these classrooms. In order to have the mastery required for public speaking they learnt to memorise and recite their stories. Memorisation and recitation are efficient and effective study methods for certain purposes.

This study method can be traced back over two thousand years to the development of the Civil Service Examination system. Judging success in the Civil Service Examination depended on candidate's ability to recite the "regime of truth". Memorisation and recitation became a major method of teaching/learning for students in the China of the past; its presence is maintained in modern China. A Chinese television program called "New Youth" claimed that nowadays some Chinese professors still request their Phd students to memorise the Analects of Confucius before they are permitted to present their thesis.

In Australia, field observations found that when children were asked to speak their teachers were trying to facilitate spontaneous use of language by encouraging children to use their inner voice rather than directly asking children to copy the "standard" way of speaking as the Chinese teachers did. As a result of the influence of the progressive view of education the Australian teachers felt that they must facilitate the growth and development of individual potentialities. To encourage children to speak their own experience in their own language was an important way to develop these individual potentialities. In Deweyian terms, these teachers recognised that language

is not itself a system of logic, and that more precisely, the uses to which language is put by any given individual, the linguistic procedures he [sic] will employ, necessarily reflect the circumstances in which he has lived and how he has coped with them. In a few words, language itself is in some deep sense a record of human experience and its particular personal manifestation is a record of individual experience (Bruner, Caudill and Ninio 1977, p. 18).

The function of 'Show and Tell', develops the children's ability to express their own personal experiences, rather than to memorise or recite existing knowledge about socially significant issues.

Interpreting the different ways of speaking

'Public speaking' for Sichuan pupils means imitating or being apprenticed to adult speaking practices. Homogeneity was imposed on the Sichuan pupils so they could better imitate the genre of 'public speaking'. However, there are different skill levels for different pupils. Teachers measure the gap between performers, ranging from poorest to best. Such measurement determines that some pupils are 'better' and some are 'worse' at imitating a designated genre, thus fitting them one to another into a legitimated hierarchy. The teachers' judgements about their pupils' performance represent the rule or the norm of the 'public speaking' genre. Therefore the pupils work very hard for these rewards. Those who are judged as poor performers try to catch up, but individual differences shade into a normative hierarchy. This represents the power of 'normalising judgement' which is one of 'instruments' of disciplinary power (Jones 1990, p. 95). It was set up as a common goal for all pupils to pursue. Whoever masters the skills of imitation well, is more likely to be rewarded. As a result of competing the reward, children's individual differences were worn down. In this respect Foucault (1979, p. 184) argues that:

In a sense, the power of normalisation imposes homogeneity; but it individualises by making it possible to measure gaps, to determine levels, to fix specialities and to render the differences useful by fitting them one to another. It is easy to understand how the power of the norm functions within a system of formal equality, since within a homogeneity that is the rule, the norm introduces, as a useful imperative and as a result of measurement, all the shading of individual differences.

In Victoria, the pupils delivering the 'Show and Tell' were generally left to her or his own devices. However, Nelson (2000, pp. 139 - 140) argues that in some schools, the teacher interrupts often to guide students' style of public speaking or to provide a series of scaffolds that lift the academic integrity of the lesson or to help a student gain a better mastery over a form of public speaking. Thus, it is also possible for the power of 'normalising judgement' to be being exercised in the 'Show and Tell' sessions in Victoria.


In this paper, the disciplinary and emancipatory features manifest in the educational consequences in these two cultural settings and political systems are juxtaposed to compare similarities and differences. The differences in cultural contexts were then explained. The analysis and interpretation elaborated Foucauldian theoretical tools.

Academically Sichuan children showed a better knowledge base than the Victoria children. They could do complicated calculations in their heads while Victoria children would rely on calculators (Observed on May 12, 2001). They also showed very talented skills in copying calligraphies and paintings. But they paid heavy costs for achieving these skills. These costs included sacrificing most of their childhood, being expected to deliver too much "passive obedience", being constrained in their "natural" instincts, and not doing anything in school before an order was given.

This project attempted to provide an informed basis for the debate over the role of schooling in forming an emancipated society or a disciplined society. It did so through anticipating and discerning contradictions and contestation within the features of schooling in the two countries studied. In this paper school practices were examined to explore how they represent the exercise of power upon the students through observation, normalising judgments and examinations. The effects of educational practices are evident in the three 'instruments' of disciplinary power: hierarchical observation, normalising judgment and the examination, with the latter combining the two previous strategies (Jones 1990, p. 95). This paper argued that these 'instruments' are visible in both Sichuan and Victorian schools. However, they are much more explicit in Sichuan school, than in Victoria. As discussed above, Sichuan pupils' daily routines were substantially regulated by the school timetable and the classrooms were almost cages where pupils spent most of their day with a fixed posture. They were carefully observed in the field where they were clearly visible. The examinations also played a role in 'normalising' and judging subjects in Sichuan schools, making it possible to reward and to punish. Hence Sichuan provides new insights into the disciplinary power exercised in schooling. The "Quality Education" reform currently being pursued in China is not merely a technical issue of "Lightening Burden". Primarily it needs to ask whether human nature and freedom of ideology, belief and speech, can be respected in the current political system and whether those traditional ideas regarding studying as suffering and the ignoring of children's "natural" instincts, can be changed. Only by raising these problems of political ideology and the fixity of highly selected cultural traditions, will it become possible to discuss the practical emancipatory potential of "Quality Education".

In Victoria, disciplinary power can be seen in schools. This involves prohibiting children from talking, impatience when not listening to teachers and prohibitions on staying in the classroom during recess time. This disciplinary power is linked to the school's socialisation function, which attempts to socialise individuals into the dominant cultural values of neo-conservative globalism and market capitalism (Rifkin 2001, p. 255). However, these disciplinary powers pale into relative insignificance when compared with the rigidity of schooling in Sichuan. Nevertheless, there are parallels in the neo-liberal economic relations being developed in both countries, especially the emphasis of the socially alienated individual and the reduction of psycho-social problems to issues of consumption. The disciplinary power exercised in Victorian schools argues that its schooling is not wholly oriented toward an emancipated society but shoulders the task of assisting young people to contribute to local/global capitalist economic development (MCEETYA 1999). Increasingly, education in Victoria is becoming more explicitly linked to maintaining an exploitative capitalist economy based on competitive markets. As a result, questions of political expediency and bureaucratic ascendancy have tended to take priority over questions of equality of opportunity and rights. However, when comparing Sichuan and Victorian children, the latter are much more innocent, artless and fond of activity.


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