Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Traditional Upbringing

Today we went to check out a Confucius school in the northwestern outskirts of the city.

The highways didn't correspond with the map and we had to make a few detours to get back on track. Finally we found the area called Bai Jia Tuan, a rustic neighbourhood which surprisingly is filled with upscale-looking Western-style houses.

This particular school called the China Confucius Academy is set up by a Mr Feng Zhe, who is in his late 40s.

It's actually located in two of these Western-style homes separated by a short walk along a dirt road.

In it, children from as young as three to as old as 14 attend school here, learning what scholars would have done centuries ago.

The youngest ones read the Analects of Confucius aloud, their finger pointing at each character so that after a while they will memorize it and at the same time learn the characters written in complicated rather than simplified style.

Those a few years older are in another room, literally chanting from the same textbook. In six months they will have recited it 1,000 times. Feng explained by the time they reach 700 times or so, the students should really understand the meaning behind the sayings, not just memorize them.

The other rooms in the home are dorms, where the kids sleep in bunk beds that are wooden planks covered with very thin futon mattresses.

In the home down the road, older students are practicing calligraphy. Their teacher wanders around, correcting them individually, telling them to sit straight, relax their shoulders or explain why one character is written better than another.

Feng says the reason he chose such an out-of-way location for his school is because it's quiet, the air is fresh and it's near the mountains where they hike every weekend. He also says the students are fed vegetarian meals because he believes the meat here has too many hormones, which Feng says will speed up their puberty, something he says is not natural. However, when they go home, they can eat whatever they want.

There's no televisions or computers in this school -- they are only allowed to watch what is pre-approved by the school.

On the whole the students seem to enjoy this place, saying they get to do different activities like wushu and calligraphy unlike normal schools in the city.

And Feng believes this trend towards Confucianism is growing in society. Twenty to 30 years ago the there was a desperate desire to have a Western education. But now, after that mad rush, people begin to feel they have lost touch with their heritage, their identity. Confucianism or studying the classics has helped them to reunite with their core being.

Feng wants to help kids have a traditional educational background that is well-rounded like the scholars in history instead of studying specific subjects. Not only does it help them become studious, but it also helps them understand the hierarchy of society, such as respecting their parents and elders.

However, it didn't seem the school was offering all classes mandated by the Ministry of Education, even though the kids were learning Shakespeare in their English classes.

Nevertheless it was an interesting approach parents seem willing to invest in. Tuition, including room and board is 30,000RMB a year (US$4,284) and is not considered too expensive. Feng adds those parents who cannot afford it can send their kids to his school for much less.

Confucius schools have been around for about a decade in China and it'll be interesting to see how these kids turn out a decade later.


ks said...

a rather fresh and different approach educating the young in a communist country. but i doubt why there is no computer or tv. nowadays we need these for communication to keep abreast with the rest of the world.

Airchild said...

Very interesting. The other day I was just thinking about how the art of calligraphy or even writing might be lost due to the increasing use of computers at school. This seems like a nice counter-trend. And I like the thought of no TV and computer at all. After all, the kids usually have those at home. Why spend all day long sitting at the computer? We certainly didn't do it while we were kids and we are doing just fine, aren't we :)? But in terms of academic learning, I hope there are more inspirations for the kids than just rote learning.
And what? US$4,284 isn't expensive? Hmmm...!