Born in rural China during the Cultural Revolution, Yong Zhao recollects that he had no talent as a farmer, so his father sent him to school where he had the opportunity to develop self-confidence. His educational journey took him from the Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages to the United States and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Zhao is an elected fellow of the International Academy for Education, a professor at the University of Kansas and the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. He has written over thirty books, including the recent Learners Without Borders: New Learning Pathways for All Students and An Education Crises Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: How Radical Changes Can Spark Student Excitement and Success. A highly sought-after voice in education, Dr. Zhao’s vision aligns with the key drivers of success for twice-exceptional students, including “personalizable learning.” In his view, the entire school system should be flexible enough for each child to discover their greatness. In this interview, Dr. Zhao dove deeply into his insights, how they apply to neurodiversity, and what it will take to create the change all learners need to thrive.
How has your experience of parenting shaped your views about how we should be “doing school?”
As parents, we don’t own our children, so that’s the first big thing. The second thing is we need to create space for them. For example, I never looked at their grades all these years. I never even asked them about that. I wanted them to develop an opportunity for self-determination, to say, “What would you like to do?” Children have their own life. That is the key. If a child decides to say, “I have to be responsible for my own life,” then ...
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