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Improbable Probabilities

The Unlikely Journey of Yong Zhao

Improbable Probabilities is an analysis of opportunity as seen through the journey of renowned scholar Yong Zhao. From an obscure village in a China wracked by the Cultural Revolution to acclaim as one of the most influential international voices in education today, Yong’s journey reveals that disadvantages may become advantages and assuming risks that others avoid can open unforeseen opportunities.


  • Why families are important for children, through Yong’s experiences growing up impoverished in a supportive but illiterate family
  • How low or no expectations may benefit some children, as illustrated by an absence of familial expectations that freed Yong to explore and discover a love of language, reading, and writing
  • Students’ potential to find and take advantage of opportunities
  • How Yong discovered, explored, and pursued opportunities others failed to see in order to become internationally recognized as a researcher, professor, and writer
  • Why Yong’s publications and perspective challenge many of the current orthodoxies in education, especially regarding how to improve the learning of students living in low-wealth communities

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Improbable Probabilities

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Boy From Sichuan Province
Chapter 2: The Budding Scholar
Chapter 3: The Traveler
Chapter 4: The Entrepreneur
Chapter 5: The Breadwinner
Chapter 6: The Global Citizen
Chapter 7: The Distinguished Professor
Chapter 8: Themes in Yong’s Thinking and Writing
Epilogue: The Luck of Meeting Smart People

Suggested Resources


  • McCray, C. (2022). Equitable instruction, empowered students: A teacher’s guide to inclusive and culturally competent classrooms. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
  • Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M. M., & Jackson, Y. (2020). Mindful school communities: The five Cs of nurturing heart centered learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
  • Barr, R. D., & Gibson, E. L. (2013). Building a culture of hope: Enriching schools with optimism and opportunity. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
  • Robertson, D., & Binis, J. B. (2022). The cardboard classroom: A design-thinking guide for elementary teachers. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
  • Grafwallner, P. (2021). Not yet . . . and that’s OK: How productive struggle fosters student learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.