Bustle, Bánh Mì, and Big Questions

Education always reflects what a society values. It is the method by which governments, schools, and famillies mold future generations according to what they think is most important in life and in "growing up." But what is most important? What are the underlying values? What kinds of visions of society are embedded in education structures, rhetoric, and ideas? Are the visions good and coherent, or do they rest on questionable premises? And, finally, how well do policies match up with the underlying goals? This is the starting point.

Now, why Vietnam? Vietnam has been a socialist country since 1975, but in 1986 the Communist Party of Vietnam implemented a large series of market-driven reforms called doi moi. Since then, the country has changed significantly -- expanding trade with Western countries, logging some of the highest rates of economic growth in the world, and creating new policies to further drive growth -- but all of this has been done under the banner of socialism.

I want to investigate how the education system has changed alongside the country's political economy since doi moi. What do the changes in the education system say about Vietnam's blend of socialism and capitalism? What now are the main values that underpin schools and universities? And what do the connections between education and political economy in Vietnam suggest about the links between schooling and society more broadly? If those were not big enough questions already, it really comes down to asking: what is the point of it all? Why do we do this school thing? Where are societies trying to go?

While I do not at all expect to answer these questions fully in 10 weeks, they should make for an interesting starting point for studying Vietnamese culture and the country's recent history. In the meantime, I'll try my hand at learning Vietnamese and, stomach-permitting, I'll sample as much local cuisine and street food as possible. Here I'll try to share with you the most interesting moments and thoughts from the trip, interspersed with pictures and descriptions of all kinds of amazing food. Note: as this blog will include far more questions than answers, they are all open, not rhetorical, questions and you should feel free to comment and respond.



  • Fresh spring rolls with shrimp and peanut sauce
    Evan Schwartz | August 27th, 2012
    Bahn Mi was definitely not the most delicious food I ate on this trip. After the Creative Kid Project ended, I set off for all of the places I had not been able to visit before, especially those rumored to have  interesting new foods to...
  • CKP 2012
    Evan Schwartz | August 6th, 2012
    It happened. We worked for four months, assembled a team of committed volunteers, and ran a six-day program for which the most common piece of feedback (from kids and parents alike) was that it should have been longer. Not bad for a little pilot...
  • The Creative Kid Project Poster
    Evan Schwartz | July 17th, 2012
    Linh's younger brother, Kien, walks into the house with his red backpack slung over his shoulder and the signature white iPhone headphones running down from his ears. He dances slightly to the beats as he drops his bag lightly onto the floor and...
  • Teaching (and playing musical chairs)
    Evan Schwartz | July 14th, 2012
    Last time, that English classroom really did feel like a prison cell (and I felt like the jailer). This time, it is a bit better. A couple from San Francisco (who are staying with Mike, the Couch Sufing guy) and I are teaching -- and we have the...
  • Is learning "super simple"?
    Evan Schwartz | June 29th, 2012
    My butt is starting to hurt. We are not even halfway through and I am already getting fidgety. The small room's dull beige walls are covered in layers of scratch marks and doodles, giving it a somewhat prison-cell-like feel. Covered windows and...
  • The Rooftop Bar, Hanoi
    Evan Schwartz | June 27th, 2012
    The ideal of economic development. To my left, a twenty-something year-old, with fake hipster glasses and slicked-back hair, mouths the lyrics of all the songs and bounces slightly to the imported beats, while pouring his friends drinks from a...
  • Motorcycles on a busy street in Hanoi.
    Evan Schwartz | June 18th, 2012
    In many places around the world, young foreigners on the streets are offered cocaine or weed; in Hanoi it's motorbike rentals. As I trek back to Linh's house from my first Vietnamese language lesson, feeling reasonably accomplished for the first day...
  • On the streets of Hanoi
    Evan Schwartz | June 14th, 2012
    "It's Vietnam, be reckless," she says. We are weaving through the after-work traffic on the streets of Hanoi and I am quickly learning the rules of the road. Rule #1: focus on what's going on in front of you. Rule #2: don't pay so much attention to...