Anxious parents send kids to "quantum speed reading" classes

Some parents believe expensive speed reading courses is somehow helpful and efficient.

 |  TANG Mingming

By TANG Mingming


Maybe you’ve seen them: the videos of children aged six to 12 years old, reading books using a technique called quantum speed reading.  In these videos, a group of students is sitting up and flipping books at an incredibly fast speed, trying to acquire knowledge. 

Other videos show a more aggressive approach, in which children put opened books on their foreheads with their eyes covered.  Their teachers say this helps them to have a photographic memory.  But many are skeptical.  After watching these videos, some netizens joked, "I used to be like this as well (flipping books.) It did help me cool down.” 

However, these videos are not meant to elicit laughter.  In fact, the expensive speed reading courses were spreading all over the country until authorities moved to ban them. Several tutoring organizations advertised the training methods as a scientific discovery of a Japanese educator, Makoto Shichida. Some reports have indicated there is good reason to be skeptical of Mr. Shichida’s academic achievements. For example, no one can find any thesis on the “Makoto Shichid’s learning method” in the international database of cognitive science and psychology. 

So why are so many parents willing to pay for this  kind of training, when it could be a scam?

The fundamental claim of quantum speed reading is that it activates the tiny pineal gland which releases hormones which “awaken” the midbrain.  According to this logic, the midbrain, once awakened, increases coordination between the left and right brains.  This allows people to master this specific reading ability. It also purports to boost children’s self-confidence, concentration and emotional management skills while improving their memory. 

But critiques are never far away.

An article published by Xiakedao (a social media account affiliated with the overseas edition of People's Daily) on October 16 states that the popularity of "quantum” related products shows that people with a lack of scientific background are easy to mislead.

This is extremely rampant in the field of healthcare. The prevalence of “chicken-blood therapy,” “sheep placenta treatment,” “quantum necklace,” and blood testing for cancer diagnosis all indicate that many people get scammed when products or services are advertised as science. 

In 2018, a teacher from a tutoring company could not help laughing during a television interview when she tried to explain the principles of quantum mechanics, which she hardly understood. She explained her laughter by saying, “We don't talk much about the principle of the course to the parents because it is so academic." This shows how scammers now use science to steal money from victims and at the same time humiliate them. 

In fact, "quantum speed reading" is not a new term. It was created a long time ago.  Even former U.S. President John F. Kennedy was rumored to be able to read the New York Times in minutes. A Canadian named Scott H. Young was called a “legend” when he completed all 33 computer science courses and also studied four languages in MIT in one year. In 2007, he wrote an article to introduce how to read quickly. 

An article published by social media account WelleStudio163 on October 15 explains that there are two ways to speed read: one is to “read ten lines at a glance” by widening readers’ visions; the other is to improve reading speed without “reverse reading.”  However, it is the language ability, not the eyesight or the speed of eye movement that limits our reading speed. The time we spend is not on “seeing” but on “understanding”. When reading speed doubles, it can negatively impact our understanding. Reverse reading is not a bad habit. It’s our brain reminding us that we are missing some information. Therefore, avoiding reverse reading is a hollow victory that only get students stuck in a whole illusion of saving time. 

Furthermore, such educational institutions that promote speed reading are not well regulated. South Reviews reported that many of them are actually not even licensed. For example, Beijing Heyitiancheng Technology Ltd., a company offering speed reading training, was deregistered on June 27, 2019, according to Tianyancha, a business registry database. Vistastory also reported that an institution called “Brain Cube” in  Shanghai,  which was known as a leading institution for brain training, was shut down in 2017 by regulatory authorities. It had expanded to more than 120 centers and tens of thousands of students nationwide in three years, by publicizing programs such as “seeing colors with eyes covered”, and “becoming a poet in seven days.”

However, when the headquarters was shut down, the owners of other training centers admitted that they just followed the trend blindly and joined the company in a  pyramid scheme. 

So why do parents pay the tuition without verification? Most likely, it’s because they cannot resist tempting shortcuts, and they deeply revere their children.

As Vistastory writes,  “with the interaction among training institutions, children, and their ignorant parents,‘the emperor's new groove’ style of self- deception comes up more frequently. This indicates a character of human nature in common – no one would admit that his/her child is too ordinary to become a prodigy.”

As early as 1979, the Sichuan Morning Post reported on children who could read by ear and believed that “there will be a new research topic for human biology.” Shortly after, many parents claimed that their children had the same superpower, which was criticized by prominent educator Ye Shengtao. 

We cannot simply blame the unregulated educational institutions that have tricked parents for money. More importantly, the popularity of quantum speed reading reflects how anxious Chinese parents are for their children to succeed.

Jiemian Culture once reported that parents nowadays are eager to send their children to after-class classes, and post their childrens’ achievements on social media. Such an act is called “Ji Wa”, a network buzzword referring to the behavior that Chinese parents push their kids to study, practice, and achieve.

In fact, this is another reason why speed reading training is popular – these parents are anxious to find the best learning methods for their kids. Lauren A. Rivera, associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, mentioned in her book Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs that “The sorting criteria for students to enter a particular path seems not to be class biased, as everyone can achieve it. But actually their parents need to be affluent, responsible, informative and supportive.”  This is also a focus for Chinese parents in first-tier cities.

Nowadays, parents not only need to accompany their kids to class, register online courses and purchase reference books, they are also required to have the connections and resources to make sure their children are referred to opportunities that are only open for a small number of candidates. In all, there are more challenges that parents face besides tuition fees.