Chinese Whispers and other misguided realities

I have just returned from working alongside colleagues in Shanghai in China on considering the application of our Learning Through Values (LTV) pedagogy to their local context.  It was my first trip to China and my lifeworld and value-set, influenced as are we all by the dominant media and chatter of everyday life, meant I arrived with a heavy load of preconceptions about the place, the people and the possibilities.

I was not alone in this.  Indeed when I mentioned that I was taking the LTV work to China, the most common reaction was one of shock – “Values? In China?”  I have no doubt that this attitude has evolved out of the way in which China is portrayed and discussed within much of the UK and I know from colleagues who have worked and lived in China that the aptly named Chinese Whispers fueling this attitude are in many cases just that.  That is not to say that China is devoid of some pretty concerning issues, most recently highlighted (albeit through the lens of Western media) by the anniversary of Tiananmen Square just last week.  I had my own reservations about going to work in China because of these issues.

Nevertheless, my explicit engagement in values and learning over the past 5 years in particular has taught me one thing for certain and that is that no person, society or culture is devoid of values and it is misguided to think otherwise.  Having embraced this fascinating area of learning and research, I am now acutely aware of how many times I hear phrases such as “well of course they have no values” or “its because of their lack of values”.  This is simply not the case.  We all have values and our work, including now in China, has shown that when supported to explore them, the vast majority of people share a remarkably common set of values.

The reality is that we go through much of life unaware of our values as they exist mainly within us and only come to the surface when we encounter an experience or issue that causes a values clash.  This is why we the aforementioned phrases are so commonplace.  It is not that the target/s of such remarks have no values, it is rather that they have (or appear to exhibit) different values and that makes us uncomfortable, uncertain, and often emotional.  But values are always, not just at times of values clashes.  Most of the time they are quietly informing and directing our choices, attitudes, opinions and behaviour in subtle and sometimes contradictory ways.  Moreover, educationalists like myself are relatively late to the party and values are actually much better understood by multinational companies, advertising agencies and political spin-doctors, than they are by those who form their targets.  And they are just that – targets to be manipulated and influenced, but for what ends?

I can feel myself going off on one now.  I must stop, but this is why I have decided to create this blog to provide an avenue for further discussion and to throw my own ingredients into the values soup and invite others to do so too.  My visit to China reminded me of the importance of this thinking needing to take place beyond conventional borders and boundaries and the remarks this week by the UK Education Secretary and by our Prime Minister that schools should in future have an expectation to promote “British Values” – whatever they are? – has only served to motivate me further.  Indeed it has for me, caused as big a values clash as thinking last week about Tiananmen Square and China.

I feel the soup beginning to simmer.


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