Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Chinese teen writes home - a book

Moeller student tells of life in America

By Valerie Christopher
Enquirer Contributor

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — Kuangyan Huang is a lot like his classmates at Moeller High. He loves tennis and soccer, designs Web sites, and is a movie buff.

        He's also a best-selling author.

[photo] Kuangyan Huang, 17, a student at Moeller High School, is an international writing sensation. Behind him are his parents, Tong Chen (left) and Quanyu Huang.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        In his native China, his book, New Heights in America: One Chinese Boy and Seven American Teachers (Jieli Publishing House) made it to the best-seller list a month after it debuted in January 2001.

        The stories of the American teachers are based on his time in American classrooms and describe how informal American teachers can be — even telling students jokes based on their life, or shaving half a beard off. That's unheard of in China, says Kuangyan, because teachers are regarded as superior.

        New Heights, available only in China, has sold more than 100,000 copies.

        “I wanted Chinese kids my age to see what America is like,” says Kuangyan.

        “For many Chinese teens, it's their dream to come to America.”

        Magazines and newspapers in China have published the book in serial form or reviewed it. There have been TV and radio broadcasts about Kuangyan and his book. Last summer, at his publisher's expense, he toured six major cities and was mobbed by teen-age girls at a book-signing at Xidan Book Complex, China's biggest bookstore.

        Excerpts from New Heights in America: One Chinese Boy and Seven American Teachers:
    • On math teacher Mike Ward: Sometimes he's like a magician, he can pull out a simple story or trick and turn the entire bored class into a ruckus of laughter. Then he said, “Anyone have any questions they would like to ask me? About anything, we can talk about just about anything you want. Well, anything meaning I won't lose my job if we discuss it.” Everyone laughed and I could see the students start to think of questions to ask. One of the juniors raised his hand and asked very seriously, “Are you a genius?”
    Mr. Ward thought for a second, “Hmm. How many geniuses are teaching guys like you?”
    • On English teacher Amy Abrams: She walked slowly up to the front of class and sat down on her stool. Taking her time, she cleared her throat and took some deep breaths. By now everyone thought that this was going to be something big and unbelievable.
    She suddenly ... started to bawk like a chicken. This was almost an exact replica of a chicken noise. She bawked for a good forty seconds or so while the class laughed the whole time.
    After that, she knew she was going to get it. Many of the kids raised their hands and to ask questions....
    A student questioned, “Which came first, you or the egg?” Mrs. Abrams replied, “I believe Mr. Nadler was before both of us.”
    “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is a very famous saying/joke in America. Mr. Nadler was the oldest teacher in the school.
    • On art teacher Brother Charles Wanda: He rarely ever taught us. About once a week, he would demonstrate something, but he never went through the motions for us to follow. He never sat down with each one of us, held our hands, and guided us through the technique. He always said that technique couldn't be taught, because every one of us was different and teaching one technique to a bunch of different people, who all had different styles and personalities, only limited their abilities.
    So he was telling us mentally what we should be careful of and not careful of and the technique he left up to us to find a way we felt comfortable.
    That is his most famous theory, “I haven't taught you a thing, you've taught yourselves.”
    Excerpts from reviews of New Heights in America: One Chinese Boy and Seven American Teachers by Kuangyan Huang.
    • “This book lets us understand how Kuang has been able to grow up healthily in an American school environment. It also reflects a group of excellent teachers in the American educational field. These teachers are vividly alive in Kuang's life.”
Chinese Reading Journal

    • “The foundation of a great country is built by its teachers and their noble characters and educational skills. As a researcher on teen-agers, I seriously recommend this book to every teacher. Of course, parents who are educators and concerned about their children will benefit from this book as well.”
Modern Educational Journal

        He writes of the teacher who clucked and the one who punctuated his questions by throwing a rubber ball at students. Also, there were the teacher who jumped from math to humor and the art teacher who'd remind his students: “I haven't taught you a thing, you've taught yourselves.”

        At the peak of the book's popularity, Kuangyan, who wrote the book over nine months while a freshman and sophomore, spent three hours a day answering fans' e-mail.

        The thrill, though, says the 17-year-old, was being published.

        “Gaining celebrity status wasn't as much excitement for me as holding the book in my hands for the first time and seeing what I had wrote was published on paper,” he says.

        “My first thought (after finishing the book) was, I couldn't wait to do another.”

        His second book, an as-yet untitled fictional account of his Moeller classmates, is due to be published this summer in China.

Taking after Dad

        For Kuangyan, writing runs in the family. His father, Quanyu Huang, is an adjunct professor of education at Miami University. He has written 10 books, including two — The Guide to Successful Business Relations with Chinese (Haworth Press; 1994) and Business Decision Making in China (International Business; 1997) — that were published in the United States.

        His father describes himself as an educator who “introduces American culture and education to China and Chinese culture and education to America.”

        It was one of his father's publishers who suggested Kuangyan write a book on American education from his perspective.

        New Heights includes an account of his eighth-grade language arts teacher, Amy Abrams, who once in a class at Hopewell Junior High in Lakota, clucked like a chicken.

        “Clucking like a chicken was my way of being off the wall,” Ms. Abrams said. “When students see their teacher looking like an idiot, it inspires all sorts of ideas in writing.”

From China to Butler Co.

        Kuangyan was born in Nanning, China, the only child of Quanyu Huang and Tong Chen. In 1990, at age 5, he moved to Oxford,where his father was working on his Ph.D. at Miami.

        In 1996, the family moved to West Chester.

        A National Merit Scholar semifinalist this fall, the Moeller junior is attracting the attention of Ivy League schools.

        He's considering a career in computers, law or medicine. If he pursues writing, it would remain a hobby first.

        “Writing is a very free sort of thing. There's no checking in or checking out,” he says. “Anything that becomes a job, I don't like. But writing never is.”

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