TED Conversations

Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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How do we create meaningful yet affordable changes to prepare our students for future collaboration with those in China, India, etc.?

In order to move past the traditional zero-sum mentality of "us versus them," we must prepare the next generation of leaders, teachers, scientists, etc., to have meaningful conversations and collaborations with their counterparts from Asia. That includes not just language skills, but some understanding of the cultures, histories, and social values as well. What kind of tangible, affordable changes can we implement—small or large—to start preparing our students to inherit that world? Affordability and ease of implementation are critical.


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  • Apr 5 2011: It is important to communicate, and we should communicate. In the Middle East, a people previously alien to us in many aspects seem to have been reborn, and now it appears that we are all alike. Our ability to communicate to people in the Middle East will flow from the commonalities of our desire to ensure freedom of speech and expression without repression or interference. Freedom and personal autonomy are precursors to any meaningful conversation.

    For us to communicate with the Chinese effectively and meaningfully, we must be able to first know that what we have said was heard. If I use Gmail, I cannot currently have a conversation with someone in China because the Chinese government interrupts that correspondence. Note the coincidence that the uprising in the Middle East was sparked by a Google Executive! Repression is a precursor for bad communication.

    In other words, it does little good to train and invest time to communicate with the Chinese when they cannot be reached. First, the Chinese people must stand up for their own rights and decide to communicate freely which will enable us to actually have a conversation which will automatically become meaningful, because it is authentic.

    Beyond China, we will become most able to collaborate with any other country by ensuring that we still have one. Therefore, to prepare our kids to have "meaningful" conversations, we should make sure to prepare our kids to vote intelligently, to read a financial statement, balance a checkbook, get a job, make a job, and how to audit the government.

    "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." John Adams
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      Apr 5 2011: i would like to clarify something you mentioned above
      1 what you mean "cant be reached"? i am a Chinese and i use gmail,ted,skype,msn ect to communicate with people in foreign contries.
      2 First, the Chinese people must stand up for their own rights and decide to communicate freely which will enable us to actually have a conversation which will automatically become meaningful, because it is authentic.---yes , i understand the importance in doing so,while there's still something we cant control ,we look at the things we can do to make a change which is more realistic.
      3 China captures and imprisons journalists, writers, artists, and musicians-- some of which are internationally valued and even decorated... as in Nobel Peace Prizes and such. ----that's what happened,and i think that is very wrong.it just concerns me when you say that.these things are done by a group of people not all chinese would agree thats a humane way to solve problems. and can you imagine when some people think we often become victim of propoganda and there are also chances people's thinking can be shaped by these things in a way that would stereotype others.so ften in life that's where distrust arises.(and i really think blaming is a waste of time, think about solutions if you really concern about people.i dont mean to offend you:)
      4 and i believe to be openminded is a personal choice .it dosnt dependes on whether the other is openminded or not,which i think is the hardest part.to take risk and learn form it even when there's no guarantee is what i learnt here from Ted talks.

      p.s i dont have to know everything to prepare kids to have meaningful conversation ,even life.
      • Apr 10 2011: 1a- You said you are Chinese, but you did not say that you live in China?
        2b- Your previous comment said that you are able to communicate freely, and then your second comment implies that you are unable to communicate freely. Then you talk about "realistic" as if your have no choice, but you do... assuming that your living and participating in the Chinese society.
        3b- Unfortunately, as a society we are blamed as a whole based on the decisions and legal systems that we continue to support. As an American, we have been judged for our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc.. True, not all Americans supported the decision, but we live in a republican democracy which still affords the decisions to the majority... so the minority had their chance to make their views known, and the minority did not effect change because they failed to become the majority. Still, in a democracy there is a conversation... in China, there is repression. This is made obvious by the facts. Noble Peace prize winners, artists, musicians, journalists, and other free thinking people are incarcerated for standing out. In America, to stand out is to stand up and to change the course of thinking; to transform the minority into the majority. Without freedom of speech and expression, there is no authentic sociological conversation/transformation. In America, it is your duty to know how to blame well; to hold each other responsible for OUR ACTIONS.
        4a- Being open minded is a personal choice, but when your not allowed to be open minded, then you have no choice. History shows us that artists, journalists, musicians, etc., are open minded meaning that they think on a new plane that reshapes what was into what will be. Without that kind of open mindedness, society fails to see much.

        p.s. I did not imply that you needed to know everything. My kids will learn to stand up for their beliefs, even in the face of repression. That is meaningful because freedom of speech begot meaningful and authentic talks.
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          Apr 11 2011: 1 Yes. i am a Chinese and i live in China.

          2 I said i can be reached here thru E mail and different ways.i got a little confused about what you mean by coummunicating freely. i was talking about talking to people freely just like what you and i are doing here.or do you mean sp==ch fr===dom?(yes ,that's a issue here,it depends on what you want to talk about.but meaningful conversations dosent have to be topics about the authorities .)

          i said "realistic" becuz individual's determinations to transform the whole society in such a authority structure is in vain,so we do what we can do to make a change.

          3 Yes .its very unfortunate if that's how things work in America or anywhere in this world no matter at the national or individual levels. For me ,Blaming is all about finding out who's right and who is wrong.and no more than that. but guess what , sometimes things are not about right or wrong at all.it is what it is and we just need to sort out a solution.and blaming often get people defensive which makes things harder than it need to be.and thats what happens among nations.so i said blaming is not helpful. but if you thinks it work well for you ,that's okay Mr.S.B.you dont have to agree with me on this;)

          4 well, being openminded is allowed by individuals themslves but no one else.and it is true that without that kind of open mindedness ,society fails to see much.

          i am sorry if i misunderstood you. and i just want to let you know i appreciate your post cuz what you said shows you are aware of and care about how justice and democracy are done elsewhere .and no one on this planet would choose dictatorship over freedom, injustice over justice. i guess that's the common ground we share? Hey ,you know what why not let's sit down and have a cup of coffee and you can tell me what you think and i could tell you what is like to live China if you want?
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      Apr 5 2011: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, S.B. Honestly.

      In regard to your point about preparing out children for the future:
      If we don't learn to understand and appreciate cultures like China, India, Korea, and a host of others, our children will not be able vote intelligently nor get a job, unless you count the manual labor jobs that will be outsourced to the US by countries that ARE capable of working in collaboration (and will be doing so) to push back the frontiers of medicine, science, etc.

      In regard to your point about the Chinese people "standing up for themselves":
      History shows us over and over again that people are not able to stand up for themselves and win without extensive support from people and governments in other countries. America was neither the first nor the last of those examples. What is more, every connection that is made between people in China and people in the west is one more channel of information that makes it harder for people to be oppressed by the stanglehold of information and spin, and it is one more bright, intelligent soul that knows first hand some counterexamples to the mythos of fear and us-versus-them thinking that is so commonly used to manipulate the masses throughout the world.

      Heaven help us if we resign ourselves to a world where we expect governments to change or see the path to a brighter future before the people under it do. :-D
      • Apr 10 2011: I did not imply nor did I state that we should not learn about foreign culture. I believe that we should be well acquainted with our neighbors.

        Our children will be able to vote intelligently and get a job as long as we have an economy that is capable of supporting such things. We are paying the price for outsourcing to countries that allow unfair labor, unrestricted work days, and child labor. The power is not in the hands of the worker, but in the consumer. At this point, it is more important to learn the fungible nature of money, and what it means to invest wisely in your local economy. We as Americans continue to make the mistake of purchasing goods from repressive governments like China which allow child labor, unrestricted work days, and wages that border on slavery. China is urging it's way forward in the world economy by selling us lower quality goods made by slaves.

        It is our mistake to do business with a bad business. If we want our kids to have a future, we must stop powering the machine by cutting off it's fuel supply; our spending. We need to create jobs here by swallowing our pride and living within our means long enough to fire up our own manufacturing capabilities. We make the finest products in the world in the US, bar non. Americans just need to save their money, and buy quality instead of their convenience.

        We were given a chance by the King of France, not the free country that we know now as France. The King of France as you know was later overthrown during a revolution that mimicked a new form of government that we here in the United States created first through making a new standard; a democracy born first through the words of Thomas Jefferson who was brave enough to imagine a world were individuals were their own free entity. Imagination won the American Revolution by way of standard made explicitly clear in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Change travels through 3 doors: standards, beliefs, and strategies. One foot before the other
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      Jun 13 2011: Hi S.B. Davis,

      I live in China and have no problem at all communicating with Chinese people ... about anything.

      Your views, I think may not be completely accurate ... since 1978, the Chinese government has been instrumental in orchestrating the world's largest emergence from poverty in history. While they were doing this "The West" (the USA, really) was overseeing the single largest financial meltdown of all time.

      American products are not considered the best "bar none" - Japanese, German, and to a lesser extent Chinese products are (where do you think Apple computers are made?)

      China is in the middle of a HUGE shift ... approximately half the population live in cities; the other half in rural areas. The shift to urban life will continue and we're not talking a piddling 150,000,000 people; we're talking 600,000,000. Try to manage that without a few hiccups along the way.

      The kids in the cities are walking around with iPhones, iPads, wearing Levis and drinking Starbucks coffee.

      It's actually a pretty cool place ... room for improvement? You bet.

      Will it ever be a "Western-style" democracy? Probably never.

      Are the people here satisfied with their government? Yes: About 90% of the population support their government and its policies.

      Can you name another country where that is true?

      I can't.

      And for the record, the American model of government is about 300 years old; the Chinese model is about 2600 years old.

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