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Discourse

WORD

THOUGHTS AND MUSINGS.

A Dialogue on Learning, Schooling, and Enlightenment

William Zou

Questioner: It seems the book that my daughter uses is a little easy and mainly focuses on literature. I wonder if we could find a subject or topic or series that my daughter would be interested in for a comparatively long period of time. And I also wish she could have the ability to produce her own critical thinking ability.

Answerer: Your daughter’s behavior is perfectly normal. The reason she hinders from continuing is because she has no interest in the subject. We tried exploring TED last time, and, as you can see, she refused to continue learning it. I believe TED is very good, but it’s not for everybody. That said, there are two ways we can approach this. First, we let her direct the learning (as I said, if you want your daughter to find her interest, you have to trust her). This means the result will be abstract. There is no set agenda. Everything that we do will be trial and error. Nevertheless, everything will be completely pure learning. Second, we can direct her to a certain subject, and insist her to finish it whether she is interested or not. She’ll learn things but most of the time the retention (memory) will be very low since it has nothing to do with her interest. Or we can direct her to a subject and keep providing her with something new whenever she gets disinterested. The problem with the second path is there is not always the interest in learning. So to answer your question: critical thinking flourishes naturally when the pupil is curious and is interested in studying the subject. We don’t need to force it.

Q: Not force, but guide. A boy once asked the famous Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, “How could you find interest in the boring practice?” And Lang Lang said, “How could you find interest without boring practice?” If that is force, then we don't need any school.

A: Yes, you need to put in the hours. But some are born to seek by themself. Others, need a guide. Just as there are people who don’t go to school and have found their way. For Lang Lang, it’s probably part of his culture that he found his way.

Q: Tell me, are all your students forced to follow your system?

A: I actually don’t follow any system. I just use a book as a guide because the parents want some progress (vocabulary, grammar, etc.)

Q: Kids are easily driven to quit. And most people need school to guide them.

A: Kids quit easily because they are being forced to do something they don’t want. And when they quit, parents begin to worry.

Q: Then there will be no pianist in the world. Because every kid in the world feels the boredom from practice.

A: I talked to a former student about this a while back. Basically, you have to understand that boredom is part of the equation. There can be no joy without boredom. When you can understand them as one, there is no boredom or joy. The endgame is, however, only the talented one makes the cut. You can put in hours and hours each day, but if you’re not “that good” at playing, you still can’t be a good pianist. If what you meant by persisting boredom is true, then everybody would be a world-class pianist. Because they would just put in the hours and they’ll become famous.

Q: We don't need to be world famous. When one becomes an adult, or an elderly, he or she will surely enjoy the happiness that piano can take him or her. And that is enough.

A: In my opinion, piano is not for everybody, just like TED.

Q: I asked my daughter to continue piano for many reasons. First, she said she likes piano and would like to learn. She took the initiative, not me. Second, though practice is boring, she enjoys playing in the theater very much. She always pushed me to register for the performance in the assembly.

A: Okay, you need to make sure she isn’t doing it because she is afraid of you. That’s more important. If she really enjoys them, then go for it.

Q: She also tried lots of other things, such as Chinese calligraphy, skateboarding, etc. And she had quit a lot as well. I also agreed.

A: Try this: don’t tell her to do anything. Will she touch the piano when she has nothing to do? Only then you will see her true color.

Q: She will! She even reminded me sometimes. Maybe she doesn't like piano, but she likes the feeling when performing in the theater.

A: People do many things for several reasons. Some for pride, others for fame and fortune. But all these are fickle. They are only “temporary happiness”. The true person is the one who enjoys the process as a whole. This person feels alive doing it, so he or she is in another place.

Q: Everybody is different. And also there is no one correct way in the life.

A: Yes, everybody is different, so we cannot simply compare one with the other. Some people need school, others don’t. So we just have to find which one is correct for us. But to say that everybody has to get a college degree before doing something else is not natural to me.

Q: Even temporary happiness makes life whole. And 99.9% of people are very ordinary. We enjoy every small pieces of happiness that life brings to us.

A: Happiness and sorrow are one. If you understand that, then there is no happiness nor sorrow. They are created only in your mind.

Q: I don't understand, and I don't wish to pursue this. We only live once. I hope my daughters could enjoy a very common and simple happiness. I don't want to use their life to search for something special. If my search turned out to be a failure, what should I say to them?

A: To understand is your choice. This is the simplest form. People just make it complicated.

Q: I just follow the common norm and try my best to enjoy them.

A: But then you don’t know what true happiness is... what if the “common norm” doesn’t lead you to the answer? This is the reason, I think, why 99.9% of people are mediocre.

Q: We are! You know, mediocre doesn't mean unhappy.

A: Of course not. The choice is always yours to make. In the end, the guider must know where to go before he or she can guide his or her children. Until then, it’s merely someone else’s words — a theory.

Q: Sure! But comparatively, a common way is a safer way.

A: Define safe.

Q: I don't want to use their life to take a risk, such as homeschooling. Of course, it’s not safe at all in China, to say the least.

A: I can’t say what is safe for me is the same definition as yours. But I’ll be a father soon and I know I won’t put my son through the same route as everybody else. As you said, everybody is different. To me losing 1,000 yuan is a big deal. For other people, it’s small change. It wasn’t hard making the decision because I know what’s going on in schools inside out. Also, I would not let other people teach my kid knowing that they probably have no idea what life is. I told my wife the same thing and she agreed. I don’t see why doing something that is out of the ordinary is “risky” for some people. For me, if you do something that is different, it tells me that you have an independent state of mind.

Q: Then your kid won’t be able to have friends and socialize.

A: He will make friends with the right people from all ages and in the right environment. Again, some children are more introvert than others. You can’t push someone who is naturally quiet to socialize. If you do, he or she will be timid. When you look at your daughter’s level, she is fit to study in 3rd or 4th grade level. But the school system won’t allow that. If you remember what I’ve said in the past, school is slowing some people down.

Q: Maybe in academic she could pursue slightly higher. I’m more worried about her level of thinking and maturity. She’ll also have difficulty making friends with her classmates.

A: The problem is the environment — that includes her friends.

Q: Yes.

A: So that’s another problem with school. If she is surrounded by mature friends, then she’ll be mature as well.

Q: Maybe. But people must learn to work with others.

A: Work with others in what way? What if you don’t like this person or this person is making you unhappy? If you force yourself because you believe in the dogma “you must learn to work with others” then you’ll be depressed. You work with like minded people.

Q: At least you should know how to restrain yourself.

A: Many people who choose this route are depressed. Look, it’s all about self-awareness. One has to know oneself before one can learn to work with others.

Understand: Everybody is different. What we — as parents — think is important for our children may or may not have any future bearing in their life. That said, we must first know where to go in order to guide our children. However, we cannot decide which path they must take.