One way of summarizing the American position is to state that we value originality and independence more than the Chinese do. The contrast between our two cultures can also be seen in terms of the fears we both harbor. Chinese teachers are fearful that if skills are not acquired early, they may never be acquired; there is, on the other hand, no comparable hurry to promote creativity. American educators fear that unless creativity has been acquired early, it may never emerge; on the other hand, skills can be picked up later.
However, I do not want to overstate my case. There is enormous creativity to be found in Chinese scientific, technological and artistic innovations past and present. And there is a danger of exaggerating creative breakthroughs in the West. When any innovation is examined closely, its reliance on previous achievements is all too apparent (the "standing on the shoulders of giants" phenomenon).
But assuming that the contrast I have developed is valid, and that the fostering of skills and creativity are both worthwhile goals, the important question becomes this: Can we gather, from the Chinese and American extremes, a superior way to approach education, perhaps striking a better balance between the poles of creativity and basic skills?
Walton set up a college scholarship fund for employees' children, a disaster relief fund to rebuild employee homes damaged by fires, floods, tornadoes, and the like. He believed in cultivating ideas and rewarding success.
"He'd say, 'That fellow worked hard, let's give him a little extra,'" recalls retired president Ferold F. Arend, who was stunned at such generosity after the stingy employer he left to join Wal-Mart. "I had to change my way of thinking when I came aboard."
"The reason for our success," says Walton, in a company handout, "is our people and the way they're treated and the way they feel about their company. They believe things are
different here, but they deserve the credit."
Adds company lawyer Jim Hendren: "I've never seen anyone yet who worked for him or was around him for any length of time who wasn't better off. And I don't mean just financially, although a lot of people are. It's just something about him -- coming into contact with Sam Walton just makes you a better person."
Making the journey from log cabin to White House is part of the American Dream. But when Jimmy Carter was defeated in his attempt to gain a second term as President of the United States he found himself suddenly thrown out of the White House and back in his log cabin. This is how he coped.
SEAN: If that sort of thing happened only once in a while, it wouldn't be so bad. Overall, I wouldn't want to trade my dad for anyone else's. He loves us kids and Mom too. But I think that's sometimes the problem. He wants to do things for us, things he thinks are good. But he needs to give them more thought because:
SEAN, HEIDI and DIANE: (In unison) Father knows better!
(The lights quickly fade to black and then come up a second or two later. DIANE stands alone at the Down Right edge of the stage. HEIDI and SEAN enter Down Left and cross to the edge of the stage. )
DIANE: Can you imagine how humiliated I was? An honor student, class president. And Father was out asking people to have their sons call and ask me to the prom! But that's dear old dad. Actually, he is a dear. He just doesn't stop to think. And it's not just one of us who've felt the heavy hand of interference. Oh, no, all three of us live in constant dread knowing that at any time disaster can strike because: Father knows better.
I'd never realized how important daily routine is: dressing for work, sleeping normal hours. I'd never thought I relied so much on co-workers for company. I began to understand why long-term unemployment can be so damaging, why life without an externally supported daily plan can lead to higher rates of drug abuse, crime, suicide.