Choice for becoming “cosmopolitans”

Like Weiwei, Baixue also migrated to Moon City. Her father was a general manager of a large state-owned company in Jiangsu Province. Her mother used to work in a bank and later had become a housewife. Baixue mentioned that her college-educated parents valued improving her independent living skills and critical thinking ability, which have been influenced by Western educational ideas. Her father has thought about sending her to study abroad since she was an elementary school student. When he moved to Moon City in 2006, due to a temporary change in his business location, he brought Baixue to the city with the hope of broadening her horizons. Baixue attended a first-tier key public middle school near the apartment that her parents purchased in this city as their new home. Although owing to the property being in the district where the key school is located, Baixue’s family had to pay sponsor fees in order to let her enter the school because her family don’t have Moon City hukou. When her father moved back to the capital city of Jiangsu for work, he left Baixue and her mother in Moon City because he believed that Baixue could receive a higher-quality education and obtain more educational resources and opportunities in this cosmopolitan city.

Although facing the problem of lacking Moon City hukou, as did Weiwei, Baixue didn’t emphasize it as a key pushing factor that influenced her choice of the international high-school program. Instead, she highlighted the impact of her father’s expectations, the role of their social network, and her own learning preferences on her choice of high school. As she described, her father expected her to develop an international perspective by studying abroad. Being a general manager of a big enterprise enabled Baixue’s father to know what kind of person, with what competencies—abilities, knowledge, skills, and experiences—is desirable. He argued that having an international and open mind is an important disposition that should be cultivated. Under her father’s influence, Baixue became interested in studying in the United States because in her eyes, U.S. universities could help to develop her critical thinking skills, creativity, and multicultural competence. She told me that she originally planned to come to the United States for graduate education rather than college education because this would allow her to learn more about Chinese culture, which could build a solid foundation for her studying abroad. However, by talking with the children of her parents’ friends and colleagues who attended Chinese universities, Baixuc became aware of the problems with undergraduate education in China. These factors impacted her decision to go to a U.S. university.

Influenced by this college choice, Baixuc chose to attend an internationally oriented high school rather than a regular high school because the former could better meet her needs and learning preferences and aspirations. She stressed that “Such a high school could allow me to concentrate more on preparing for the U.S. college application.” In addition, she noted that she liked studying based on her interests rather than passively following teachers’ instruction. However, the latter was the dominant teaching model that a regular high school was more likely to adopt. Thus, a traditional high school was excluded from her consideration. She then turned her attention to choosing what kind of international high-school programs she will attend. In this process, she encountered many questions, as she highlighted.

The following interview excerpt illuminates Baixue’s process of selecting an appropriate international high-school curriculum program.

BAIXUE: There are too many choices. In fact, international high-school programs in China are very chaotic—private ones and public ones. Among the public international programs, there are IAP, A-Levcl, AP, and other various types of curriculum programs, depending on which partner institutions the public high school collaborated with. Because I have decided to go to U.S. colleges, I didn’t consider those international programs oriented toward universities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries. Eventually, my focus was on three kinds of international high-school programs, including Orange High A-Level Program, Apple High AP Program, and Sunny High IAP Program. I didn’t choose the A-level program because I knew some friends who attended this program (they arc not good students). In addition, my mom and I visited the school and did some research about the program. We found that the school wind is just so-so.4

SL: Could you be more explicit about this? Why do you think that the school wind of Orange High A-Lcvel Program is “just so-so”?

BAIXUE: In fact, many Chinese high-school students who choose to go to college abroad are such students: they don’t study well at school and have low academic performance. But their families are very rich and could send them abroad. For these super riches, studying abroad is like “gold plating.” There are many such students attending Orange High A-Level Program. The personal qualities of the students are differentiated. Some of them are the children of Shanxi coal bosses.3 I decided not to choose this international program because I don’t want to study with these students.

SL: You excluded the Orange High A-Level Program.

BAIXUE: Yes! I then considered Apple High’s AP Program. I am a kind of person who likes conducting comprehensive research when I desire to know something. My mom and I visited the Apple High AP Program. I also looked at the Internet forum of the program.

SL: Internet forum?

BAIXUE: Yes! Internet forum. I took a look at the internet forum of the Apple High AP Program. I found that the Apple High AP Program and its regular high-school classes were located in the same school campus. There are emotional confrontations between students in Apple High regular classes and those who attend the Apple High AP international program.

SL: Interesting! Could you tell me more about this?

BAIXUE: The students in regular classes at Apple High look at the students in the AP program as those less talented who only rely on their parents’ money to get in Apple High and by contrast they attend Apple High based on their high academic achievement. Well, the latter group of students think that regular high-school students are too cheesy/corny (tn, i). There are emotional confrontations between them. They didn’t say it in a frank manner. But you could feel the tension through reading their replies. Thus, I think that this is not necessary.

SL: What do you mean “not necessary”?

BAIXUE: I mean it is not necessary to be involved in such oppositions. I think that these oppositions are too naive. Because people live in different social environments, these differences can unavoidably produce misunderstandings and conflicts. If I were to attend the Apple High AP Program, I may have to get involved in the confrontations, which I don’t like. Therefore, I decided not to choose this program, either. After a consideration of Sunny High IAP Program, I chose to attend this program.

SL: You compared these different international high-school programs. What makes the Sunny High IAP Program more attractive to you?

BAIXUE: There are four reasons why the Sunny High IAP Program attracted me. First, it is an international high-school program [she had decided to choose such a program]. Second, it is an international program that was designed for students who will go to U.S. universities [she has decided to study in the United States], Third, it has an independent campus [she doesn’t have to deal with potential oppositions with students in the Sunny High’s main campus]. Fourth, it is created by Sunny High, and Sunny High is a prestigious school.

Baixue was an independent, confident, and mature 12th grader when I met her at my research school. She was open and flexible to working and living abroad in the future, as did her parents. She articulated the complex decision matrix as facing too many educational choices—college choices in an international context and high-school choices among various kinds of international high-school curricula. Her parents played a key role in the process of choice and decision-making. As a child of open-minded parents, Baixue has played a significant role in making the decision of which kinds of college, high school, and international program she should attend. The four reasons why she chose to attend the Sunny High IAP program indicate that the program matches the needs, preferences, and tastes of students like her. Given the key role that parents play in the decision-making process of school choice, this match should be also understood as parental preferences for their schools. These themes reflect the more personalized identities of new Chinese middle- and upper-class families (Bernstein, 1977; Power & Whitty, 2002). Moreover, I argue that the choice processes also shape the subjectivities of these students. For instance, in the process of choosing an appropriate international high-school curriculum program, Baixue distinguished herself from the children of extremely wealthy families as well as highly able regular Chinese high-school students, which points out who she thinks she is. This resonates with what Ball and Nikita (2014) point out— school choice “reflects the identity of the parents” and also “forms the identity of the children” (p. 89). The data from my interviews with Qiang and his parents further support this argument.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >