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Yong Zhao’s NPE Speech, Transcribed– Part V (All Done)

May 14, 2015

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, University of Oregon education professor Yong Zhao gave a keynote address at the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education (NPE). Zhao’s entire 55-minute speech can be found here.

I thought this speech worthy of preservation as a Word document; so, I decided to transcribe it.

I am pleased to say that I am finished. The full transcription of Zhao’s speech is available here for any and all who wish to read it:

Yong_Zhao NPE Transcript

However, the remainder of this post consists of the last of my five installments of Zhao’s speech, for those who have been patiently waiting for this, Part V, after having read Parts IIIIII, and IV.

At the conclusion of Part IV, I ended with Zhao’s discussion of Asian officials’ wondering how it is that their students score so well on tests yet lack confidence, and how these officials recognize the need for confidence to foster creativity.

I will begin this final installment recapping Zhao’s words on this idea.

Asian officials now know that there is more to education than high test scores.

Zhao hopes that now-test-score-driven America will catch on.

Let’s begin:

And now, Asian systems do not take this [valuing of high test scores above all else] very seriously at all. They look at the factors, they interpret in a different way. They said, “How come our children score so well but have no confidence?” If you haven’t enough of confidence, you cannot be creative. You cannot be entrepreneurial. That’s what they want. All Asia said, “If you are not interested in science, it’s like, less likely for you to become a true scientist. So, that’s what Asian countries’ worry about. That’s why they have this reform; they want to change it.

And this change has become extremely important when the “foggy Christmas” has come. [44:05] Because when the foggy Christmas has arrived, even Rudolph has become useful.

Now, what’s the foggy Christmas like? Well, it’s two things that’s really changing us, affecting [us]. Big fact one, this is what Americans… by the way, most politicians recognize. The first one is called, “the arrival of the second machine age.” That is, uh, this is in contrast [with] the first machine age by steam engine. The second machine age is digital technology that is redefining the value of talents. Machines now can do a lot of human jobs. We have this. We have this. Automation has replaced a lot of jobs. It’s going to replace even more jobs. You know, we used to have a lot of, ah, tax accountants. We have Turbo Tax. You, you notice that? All this, it’s massive. America is, is at the risk of having a surplus of lawyers, which is almost [an] impossible phenomenon for America [laughter], but, you know, we, we are, we’re still suing each other as much as possible, but we, you know, just don’t need many legal workers. Digital databases allow you to search. You don’t have to go through the same kind of books. It’s changing. We have Google Car coming, which [means] we don’t need the taxi drivers for in the future. You know the Google Car thing? It’s happening a lot. So, are we educating our children to have, to compete with machines? Lot of reasons now our kids are back in our basement: We educate them for jobs that can [be] replaced by machines. If they are not replaced by machines, they’re outsourced. Globalization.

Because [of] globalization, this is another interesting question: We talk about “global competitiveness,” out-educate, out-compete other countries, this is Obama’s words, but what does [it] mean? If China spends ten thousand dollars [to] produce the high test scores, if America spends ten times more [to] produce the same test scores, they have the same talents, of course they were to go buy the ten-thousand-dollar test score. America, even if we could score as well as Asian countries, but they cost less, it wouldn’t work. We’ve got to seek something different. Do something different.

Last thing. So what is the “different”? The first thing that’s different is diversity of talents. Rudolph has become valuable because society has changed. We have arrived at [a] different society now. What’s the society? Number one, things called, we called the “age of abundance.” Age of, means we have increased productivity, we have more disposable income, we have more leisure time. We consume different products and services. My village in China [is] still in the age of necessity. Everybody still worr[ies] about food, shelter, and clothing. Today in America, we don’t. We worry about something else. Thus, gives rise to a different kind of talent. The kind of talent I would call is this: the traditionally useless people, like Rudolph [47:00], red-nosed reindeer, have become useful. Traditionally undervalued talents have gained value.

One of the best example[s] of traditionally useless people who have become useful is Kim Kardashian. [laughter] What does she do? Nothing. She is a celebrity for nothing. She is famous for being well-known. That, that, that’s what she does. [laughter] But she, she is out of her parents’ basement. [laughter and applause] You may not like her at all, you may not like her at all. I don’t think anyone here likes her, and I don’t even know her. I don’t, never watcher her. I was, I co-existed with her in the elevator. That’s all I did. I met her. So, she never met me. But that’s fine, so. [laughter]

What does she provide? She is valuable because she has something unique to offer for a very small group of people. We also have con– you know, you may laugh at her– we all consume some sort of “Kardashian” in our mind. We consume psychological-spiritual ideas. For example, actually, example, the best one as I gave you is this. It’s embarrassing for me, but I will tell you anyway. This is a shampoo. You know this? [shows picture of shampoo aisle at a typical American grocery store] When I came from China [in] 1992 to [the] US, I couldn’t buy shampoo because I did not know what kind of hair I had. [laughter] You know? It’s, ah, oily, normal, or dry. I had, ah, a bar of soap for every inch of my body. Was fine. There was no problem [in] China.

Why do we need this? You know why you need this, right? Even if I, I couldn’t even read that, you know. It may work for a different kind of hair, but the shapes of the bottle, the color of the bottle, do you really need this? No. You don’t. But we want this. We want choice. That’s psychological. That’s spiritual.

Today, like even food. Food is not a necessity anymore. You are in Chicago. The money you spend, the less food you get. What’s the point? [laughter] Why, why, why [are] you doing this stuff? It’s a, it’s [laughter] answer number one: Whoever can create new options, new activities, new services, [means ?] I’m a “need.” Machines can be programmed to do that, but human beings are the ones [who] can vary. We can create. We can combine. That’s, that’s, that’s the new thing. That’s what human beings are different from others.

So, today we have arrived at the time that every talent is valuable when fully developed. If Kim Kardashian is useful, anyone can be useful. [laughter] That’s what our number one [is]. That’s [what] was our traditional thing. We allowed everyone to flourish. Now, we have to deliberately cultivate that. Deliberate[ly] cultivate. [50:00] And also, we have to think about other things today. For example, we know very well creativity is important, but creativity wasn’t important before. Create, we suppress creativity. There’s another “side effects.” Our children are born with a lot of creativity. Everyone is born to be creative. That’s a human being. You know, that’s our gift, to be able to adapt, to learn and relearn, and to develop new things.

But school has typically tried to suppress. So, a lot of times, the short-term learning has always become, direct instruction may give you the short-term gain but cause long-term damages. There’s a lot of studies showing now, for example, if you are going to teach children how to play [with] the toy, they lose curiosity, lose creativity. And this, if you want to read this, there’s two studies showing this thing. And if you allow children [to] explore more, they may not test very well, but they maintain creativity and maintain curiosity. So this is why in our schools right now, our school is, has been, the best creativity candy machine you can have. I’ve always said American schools do not teach creativity better than any Asian systems; we kill it less successfully. And, you know, when children are born [till] age five, basically in divergent thinking measures, 98 percent of them are creative at the genius level. Five years in our school—not in yours; in someone else’s school that’s doing Common Core stuff, but, uh, and the, the—we lose 60 percent. Then we gradually lose more, and by the time you get [to] 44, we really lose a lot. And creativity can bounce back, actually, for after retirement. George Bush is painting now. [laughter] That’s a, that’s, now, it shows a lot about how do we lose creativity and how to regain creativity. So, so, how do we do it? Creativity is not only, psyc, cognitive; it’s very psychological. Creativity is very domain specific. There’s no generic creativity. You cannot be creative in everything. Time, effort, work is there.

Another element we, we need our students to think about [52:00] is the element of entrepreneur thinking. By the way, some people think I am promoting entrepreneurship, like, uh, the bad ones. I want to talk about entrepreneur thinking. And, uh, many of you probably [think], “Why [are] you talk [about] entrepreneurs!” There are many bad entrepreneurs, and there are also many good entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurs are not only in business. There the [word ?] entrepreneurship has been redefined to include social entrepreneurs, policy entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs. You are all entrepreneur-thinking people. So, entrepreneur, it’s, as a spirit basically means if you’re not happy about something, do something about it. That’s all. That’s basically it. It’s a, but people don’t like these ideas. I said, you know, you can have all kinds [of] entrepre, entrepreneur people are basically [those who] say that, “Let’s take action.” You are policy, you are social entrepreneurs. You are defend[ing] a system. And what makes entrepreneurs, ah, you know, high quality? We talk about confidence—that’s why Asians—friends. Networking of  people. Taking risk[s]. We are all taking risk[s]. We have unearthed opportunities. All of these things.

We have to make sure, in the age of globalization, what can our students, our education do? Our students are fortunate to be born in this country. They are fortunate to have all of this investment in them. They should not be competing for the same jobs as Chinese, as Indians, as Filipinos, Scandinavians, all this way. They should be working with them to create new opportunities for everybody. Jobs lost is, actually, creates new opportunity. We need to reorient our education to think about, “How do we help our children regain opportunities?” They do not fight in the future world. They create the future world. And that’s why we need a different type of education.

So, America has to end this, has to think about, instead of try[ing] to pursue gigantic stone heads as test scores, we educate our children to do a lot more—which are not very measurable. And they are not here at all. That’s why I’ve spend most [of] my time last year trying to write a new book called, Counting What Counts, to figure out, what really matters? All those things. And not all of these things can be measured. Not all of this can be measured, so we have to redefine the outcome of education. Not, when you use the term “education,” not every “education” is education. Education sometimes can be simply indoctrination. Can be oppression. Education, I hope after today, to serve our children, to serve our country, make the world a better place.

We will not commit this suicide. We will preserve our traditional virtues of public education, public provision. We will restore professional, professional autonomy. We will want [to] educate our children as individuals, as individual students. Education is to create opportunities for every individual student. They are not an average. They are not a probability. Our children need to be improved as individual human beings, and they will stay out of your basement. Thank you. [applause]

A sure sign that education is working:

No grown children living in the basement.

basement living


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.


  1. Mercedes: I’m so enjoying this speech. I printed out the first four parts to read on a flight. The insight Yong possesses is incredible. From his lips to God’s ear!

    Thank you for all the work in transcribing this. I will be sharing. Widely! Christina

    Sent from my iPhone

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  1. Mercedes Schneider Transcribes Yong Zhao’s NPE Speech | Diane Ravitch's blog
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