Reflections of Educational Inequality in the U.S. and China
This summer Abigail Leitschuh ’17, working with Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures Zhuoyi Wang, is researching the Chinese education system, hoping to discover how similarly unequal education systems may come from two politically and economically disparate countries. Her research is funded by a Levitt Center research grant.
Leitschuh became interested in this topic after taking a public policy course that examined education reform throughout the United States and a Chinese elective course that provided her with some information of a similarly unequal education system in China.
She began her research as an examination of the Chinese education system, specifically looking for instances of equality and inequality. However, she soon realized, “Chinese history and the vastness of the Chinese population make this topic difficult to tackle in one summer.” As a result, Leitschuh narrowed her focus with the help of Wang. Now, she is focusing on students’ post-high school opportunities. “By speaking with members of varying socioeconomic classes about this definitive time in a student’s education,” she said, “I’m developing a better understanding of exactly what opportunities are and aren’t available to students of different backgrounds.”
To conduct her research Leitschuh is watching films, reading scholarly articles and compiling information on education, equality and Chinese history. She is currently in Beijing, China, where she has the opportunity to interview students, parents, teachers, college guidance counselors and education experts. She plans to use the interviews to find out more about the equality of opportunity within the Chinese system and the value that is placed on education from class to class.
As she worked on her project Leitschuh was “consistently reminded of the uniqueness of our Hamilton education,” especially when attending an information session for students and their families about the college process and colleges within the United States. “Whereas I’ve grown very familiar with terms like open curriculum, electives, seminars, cold calling and physical education requirements, these terms were so foreign to most families,” she remarked. “While I have admittedly taken them for granted at times, it was really refreshing to see both students and parents on the edges of their seats at the prospect of having so much choice in regard to education.”
Her summer research serves as a stepping-stone for what will push far beyond just the summer. She explained, “As my research this summer will continue through a fall and spring thesis, I ultimately would like to understand how the education gap grows so rapidly in two entirely different countries. My hope is that, at the end of this project, I may find some sort of a connection between inequality in American education and inequality in Chinese education, and that this discovery would hopefully lend itself to a fresh perspective on education inequality within America.”