Old nation seen with fresh eyes
By Maggie Blackwell
Carson High School Principal Henry Kluttz says his recent trip to China overturned his notions about the country.
Kluttz traveled to China last month with Carson assistant principal Kelly Withers and administrators from 12 other North Carolina schools. The trip was a component of a partnership with Chinese schools to promote international understanding. While in China, Kluttz signed a memorandum of understanding as to what the partnership will include. The trip was paid for by the Robertson Foundation.
Kluttz readily acknowledges he grew up in an era of fear, when the menace of Chinese and Russian communism was pervasive. As a young man, he knew of the mass killings, the harsh way of life. Yet the China he saw was quite different. China is North Carolina’s second-largest trade partner; our state exports poultry and pork to the nation halfway round the world. Signs for, “One World, One Dream,” still hung in Beijing. The clerk in their hotel gave Kluttz and Withers small cards with Chinese characters saying, “I am lost. Please help me find Beijing National Hotel.”
“It was life-changing. I saw a very modern China, a clean and courteous China. No one was rude or mean to us at any time. It came across as very genuine. It’s important that our children understand the place China plays in this world,” he said.
The administrators were treated as honored guests. Their Chinese translators were thrilled to accompany them, as the Americans were taken to see many sites never entered by the typical Chinese citizen, including, ironically enough, The Great Hall of the People.
“We were given VIP treatment, treated as rock stars. Very few government officials across China did not know we were there,” Kluttz noted.
Withers, on the other hand, grew up with no fears of China. Thanks to technology, her generation sees the world as a much smaller place. She had no preconceived notions; in fact she says she went with a “clean slate.”
“Mr. Kluttz is closer to the end of his career, and I’m closer to the beginning of mine. We saw the same things, and they had different meaning for us. If we cultivate this partnership now, we can affect our children for years to come,” she said.
Carson is one of 12 schools participating with the Center for International Understanding out of Raleigh. The team from North Carolina traveled as a group to China; first they visited the national capital, Beijing, then each smaller group traveled on to the capital of their province, then to the school with which they will partner. Kluttz and Withers visited Nanjing, capital of the Jiangsu province, then proceeded to Huai’an to see their sister school. The trip to Beijing took 14 hours; the subsequent trips took a couple hours each.
Next April, Chinese educators will visit Carson and the other North Carolina schools in the group. In similar fashion, they will first see Washington D.C., then Raleigh, then travel on to China Grove.
Kluttz sees the partnership affecting all of Carson’s 1,200 students. Some will take Asian History classes, some may take Mandarin Chinese, and others will learn about the trip, the culture, and the students. They will have electronic pen pals, specially designed blogs, and video-conferenced classes ó some live, some delayed. Chinese students access the Internet under censorship, so emails will be delayed as officials screen out unwanted material.
Both administrators hope to pursue grants to enable travel for teachers or students. Withers dreams of a summer camp-type arrangement, which would be a less expensive way for a student to experience the culture than a whole semester. School years in both countries align.
“I would love to win a grant to bring a teacher here to teach Chinese,” Kluttz said.
Withers noted the extreme courtesy shown by their hosts. “At one restaurant, they asked Mr. Kluttz if he wanted orange juice or watermelon juice. He wanted to try watermelon juice ó so they all had watermelon juice.”
The next day, officials asked Kluttz which entrée he had liked best. “I think the duck,” he answered ó so that night, they went to a restaurant that specializes in duck.
Withers enjoyed taking the letters written by Carson students to the students in Huai’an. When she gave the letters to the students, they were polite and reserved. When she walked by the same classroom later, the students had spread the letters on the floor and were crowded around them, vying to see them.
The Chinese school is quite different from Carson. Carson is a broad, low building in a rural setting. Jiangsu Qingjiang School is a high-rise set right on a busy street.
Carson was built only a few years ago. Jiangsu Qingjiang is 58 years old. Yet the students in China were curious about fashion, rock stars, and sports stars. They asked about Kobe Bryant, Alan Iverson, and of course, Michael Jordan. When Withers shared that Jordan is from North Carolina, they were in awe.
Withers also noted the differences in culture. Kluttz and Withers had attended an orientation before traveling to China, and were prepared for candid, personal, questions. During their first few minutes in China, their translator asked about their salaries, their age, and their belief in God. He wondered aloud if Americans have guns in their homes.
The Chinese principal does not have relationships with the students ó only teachers do. Chinese students are raised with a spirit of competition. American students are raised with a spirit of collaboration.
“Their reverence for their nation, for other people, and for their children was amazing,” Withers said. “Because the government limits how many children they can have, they are intensely devoted to that child, put all their resources to the success of that child.
“The part that was life-changing for me was seeing the children there, the children here, and my own child. If we can make this partnership work, we can have a long-lasting effect on them all.”
Kluttz agrees. He recalls what the Jiang’Su head of education said to him: “When American catches a cold, China sneezes.” He shakes his head. “I had no idea how closely connected we are to China.”
Many Carson students will communicate with Chinese students this year. Administrators from the sister school will visit Carson in the spring.