| Alfred C. Snider | April 15-16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 2001| Other Journals | Debate Central |
Once again my circadian rhythms are back in order and I awaken at a normal time. I work on my journal and listen to some music. I am beginning to suffer from news deprivation. At home I am a news junkie, even if it is CSPAN or news from the past on the History Channel, but I need information about events and I feel like I have been cut off here in China. There is a nightly news program in English but I always seem to be doing something when it shows on the television (and quite a nice one) in my room. This morning I also discover that the toilet paper in the room has as its brand "Double Happiness," and while I can imagine what the first one is, I am not sure what the other would be. Because of plumbing repairs we only have hot water from 6-8 AM, so I generally leave the hot water tap on in the bathroom and it starts flowing shortly after 6 AM and I know that it is time to take a bath.
At breakfast I have to confront many choices for the day which Juefei presents to me. Because I am leaving Qufu early he is concerned that I will be missing some of the sightseeing planned for the rest of our party (Taishan Mountain, home and tomb of Confucius, home of Mencius, sights in Jinan) so he offers me the chance to skip the Chinese presentations this morning and see some the home and tomb of Confucius. I enjoy, of course, seeing ancient Chinese sites, but on the other hand I am curious and interested to see and hear the Chinese presentations, both because of the subject matter and because I want to see what renowned Chinese scholars are like in their manner and presentations. So, I decided to stay at the conference and forego the tour activities. In the afternoon our party is scheduled to tour two schools which are here on campus, a middle-high school and an elementary school. My options were to stay at the conference and see thew two presentations which would be translated into English (Holden Waterman from Connecticut and Janet Jamieson who now teaches in Yunnan province) and then do my laundry (which will need to be done in a day or so -- when I am on the move) or go with our party on school visitation. I wanted to see the presentations and needed to do laundry, but the school visitations would provide me with an opportunity to see real Chinese schools and students. I decided to go on the school visitation.
At breakfast we were presented with packets of gifts from our Chinese hosts, including a beautiful pen set, a T-shirt from the university, abstracts of all the American presentations in English and Chinese, and a lovely journal embossed with the conference name, location and date.
We were then off to the conference for some general sessions with all of the attendees present. Once again it was held in the main conference hall and once again I forgot to go and get my tripod I had forgotten the day before.
Donna Howell | Audience at the conference
The first presentation was by Donna Howell, and was about the need for education to change its methods to equip students to become knowledge workers and producers. She highlighted the specific skill needs of knowledge workers, related it to recent brain research, and suggested characteristics of learning environments which would meet these goals. She finished right on time so was able to take a number of questions, which were specific and spirited. Then there was a short break.
The second presentation concerned the use of student self-discovery in learning. An incredibly entertaining older male Chinese professor presented his study of using student self-discovery to teach methods of paragraph construction. His findings were statistically impressive, in that using a method which allowed students to discover methods of paragraphing from models presented to them was far more effective than standard teaching methods, and that the abilities students developed in learning this way also improved their performance in other areas of writing construction because they learned how to learn on their own. He seemed very funny and made my Chinese colleagues laugh many times but the jokes didn't seem to translate too well. I assumed that they were Chinese teacher jokes the context for which I lacked, but I enjoyed his active and animated presentation. He ran a little long and there wasn't much time for questions.
The third presentation was by a young Chinese female professor about using a critical-active approach to learning. She presented her method of giving students confusing stories and then having them figure out what was going on. One example was of cigarette seller in the street who told people they should buy cigarettes because smoking would give people a clear and attentive mind. An old man steps forward and says that cigarettes are good because they prevent you from being burglarized at night, they prevent you from being attacked by wild dogs, and that cigarette smokers would be young. The cigarette seller then got very mad at the old man. The mystery is, why would the cigarette seller be angry? While students are allowed to have many different answers, the obvious ones were as follows: you would not be burglarized because you would cough during the night and burglars would think you were awake, you would stink of tobacco which wild dogs dislike so they would avoid you, and you would not grow old because you would die of lung disease before you got old. She had other stories I also enjoyed. Her findings demonstrated that not only did students love this method but it greatly increased problem solving ability and forced students into creative thinking in order to find answers. She ran a little long so there were few questions. I thought her presentation was excellent.
The final presentation was by a young Chinese male professor from the host school. He dealt with the topic of how to define and measure creativity in students. He reviewed many of the common measures of creativity and evaluation instruments for it, some which have been developed on Taiwan and some of which have been developed in America. I specifically liked the instruments he described, showing some of the graphic problems which were used to evaluate students. He tried to cover a few too many concepts and instruments, but I enjoyed his presentation because he went quickly and covered a lot of material. Some people seemed uncomfortable when he quickly listed ten elements of creativity, for example, but I enjoyed keeping up with him sort of like judging a debate. He finished at the end of his allotted time so there was no opportunity for questions. This concluded the morning session, and a content-filled morning it was.
Author and Confucius statue at university
At lunch most of my American colleagues commented about how difficult the session had been, since they were in their seats listening to people talk quickly for two and a half hours, but I had to tell them that I was very used to such things and found it very informative. Ah, the skills of a policy debate judge!
At the end of lunch we heard some comments from Janet Jamieson. She had been a school superintendent in New England and had come to China on a previous visit organized by Juefei. She had loved it so much that she decided to teach here for a semester. She had loved that so much that she had decided to resign her position in America and take a job teaching at a university in Yunnan province, one of the poorest and least developed parts of China, and also a province with a large population of non-Chinese ethnic nationalities. Since arriving these people had become a large focus of her work. They live in isolated rural areas in a harsh climate yet are purely subsistence farmers in a difficult situation in a modernizing China. Minorities are exempted from the one-child policy because they are mostly subsistence farmers and need more hands at home. Generally only one child in a family (usually the son) is allowed to attend school, and often that is difficult. Because the Han Chinese language is not their native tongue, and because all of the instruction and examinations take place in Han Chinese, they are at a serious disadvantage in the school systems and have a difficult time passing the college entrance exam should they finish school. Bad crop years can make it impossible to stay in school at all. The costs associated with school beyond the primary levels are also prohibitive for people not really participating in a cash economy. She and Juefei had begun a project to raise funds to help keep these students in school and especially to allow young women to attend school. $200 a year is often enough to keep a student in school. She had begun programs in New England where school children and families could go in together and sponsor such students. She told several moving stories of specific students and did not ask us for contributions as such, but asked us to help spread the word back home in their school systems. I keep learning more and more amazing things about Juefei and the work he has done. I plan on helping to promote this project when I return home.
Qufu Teachers University Attached School | Meeting with school staff
Following lunch there was some time for me to work on my journal and recharge some camera batteries before we met in the lobby for our school tours. We walked to the other end of this handsome campus and stopped first at the middle-high school. Unfortunately the students were all taking their exams so we were not able to meet with them observe their educational activities, and I understand that completely because in China the system isn't just high stakes testing, it is all stakes testing -- they determine your future in very specific and profound ways. The school itself was beautiful and modern. We were ushered into a beautiful conference room which had been decorated to welcome us. We met with the principal, his second, a teacher who had spent time in Tennessee and spoke wonderful English, and some students from the Education department at the university who worked with the school. We were served beautiful fruit, but having been warned to only eat things which could b peeled I had a banana. Unfortunately, while the fruit was delicious, I rubbed my eye with the hand I had used to peel the fruit and my eye began to burn. I attributed this to some sort of chemical used on the fruit and made sure to wash my hand and eye as soon as I could.
The discussion was wide-ranging and two way. The Americans asked questions about Chinese education and the Chinese asked questions about American education. Sometimes the point of questions and answers was lost in translation, but it can be described in diplomatic terms as a "frank exchange of views." Teachers have large classes (50 orn60) but only teach two 45 minute classes a day, and spend the rest of their time planning their lessons, correcting work, and giving special attention to students who need it. Discipline problems literally do not exist in Chinese schools, we were told. I mentioned that I had been a disruptive student and I wondered what would have happened to me in China. I was told that the teacher would talk to the student, and if that failed then the parents would be contacted. If the problem continued the student would be asked to stay home but always seemed anxious to return to the school after only a few days because remaining at home was profound punishment . It is interesting that in America punishment is staying after school, while in China punishment is staying out of school. I asked what would happen if this did not work, and I was told by the teacher that in her twenty years as a teacher this had never happened. I am sure that if I was raised in China I would either be a different person or would have ended up out of school and probably in prison. I suspect the former is more likely. As a student I always tended to push the envelope of control by others, and the envelope would have been far different here. The time sped by and we had to leave to visit the elementary school.
We walked into the courtyard of the elementary school just as there was a break between classes. The students seemed very excited to see us, and before we knew it we were mobbed by happy, smiling, laughing students. The American public school teachers and officials in our group seemed to really be in their element, surrounded by children. I began to understand my American colleagues a bit better. So much of our time had been spent with adults, and they love to be with children. In America it seems that you generally become a teacher because you love children, not because of pay or social status, and this is hat they had really come to China to see -- children at school.
Scene at the Qufu Teachers University Attached Primary School
I am sure that the school officials were a bit distressed by the disorder brought on by the visit of the Americans, but there was very little we could do about it. We just acted friendly and polite and coped as best we could with crowds of beautiful children who wanted to shake our hands and also wanted us to sign autographs. Not know what to write, I would write the Chinese character for China (it is an easy one) with a USA under it, and then surround them both with a heart. I think the message is clear. I must have written this on dozens of sheets of paper thrust at me by smiling young faces. I hope that when they took these slips of paper home and showed their parents that the message came through, and I am sure it did.
A bell rang and the students were called to their next and final period of the day, so they had to go. We met with the school officials and they took us on a brief tour. We saw a first grade classroom with considerable technology, we saw the school library, and we saw the elementary school computer lab, with what looked like about seventy networked computers. They were very proud of this, and they should be. While they were all networked together they were not linked to the internet. The hour was growing late and we had to move on, although it was clear that we would have preferred to stay, especially with the children, but I sensed that we had disrupted their day enough so it was time to go.
We walked to the other side of the campus for a photo opportunity with the faculty of foreign languages, but found out that had to be delayed until later. So, on the way back we stopped at the huge statue of Confucius at the entrance to the university for another photo opportunity. We went back to the center and I had a chance to get on the internet and finally send a message home, the first since I arrived. It took me a while to make contact, but when I did I saw I only had 387 messages, which isn't really that bad. I sent a quick message reporting that there is, indeed, debating in China, and then it was time to go.
We went back to the department of foreign languages and had a good opportunity to meet with the faculty there. I had a wonderful conversation with Prof. Xu, who has been here for 30 years and had studied in Montreal. We had a great conversation about how things had c hanged during his time at Qufu Teachers University. The officials arrived and we had yet another photo session and then piled back into the bus, this time bound for the fancy banquet celebrating the conference.
When I say fancy banquet I am not just being cute. This is about as fancy a banquet as I have ever been to. It was held in a brand new complex in downtown Qufu, but it has been meticulously constructed along traditional Chinese lines. There is a massive gateway, and inside a beautiful huge courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard is a huge bronze statue of Confucius in a four wheeled Chinese chariot pulled by two horses, being followed by four riders, and it represents Confucius leaving his home province to serve as a state advisor in another kingdom. At one end of the courtyard is a huge display of military miniatures representing a famous battle of the warring states period. I wish it had been earlier in the day and that I had more time to examine it, but we needed to get to the banquet. Next to the miniature display was a huge banquet hall which we entered. Inside it was much like a huge dinner theater, with a large stage with many round dinner tables in front of it, with a small runway leading out into the dining area. The walls were done in beautiful lacquered panels with traditional Chinese themes.
Confucius rides again | Military miniatures
We were asked to sit with our personal translators (in my case Xu Qingli) and at a table with no other Americans, which was fine with me since I wanted to meet as many Chinese colleagues as possible. Qingli and I joined a group of friendly gentlemen at a table near the stage, and immediately the meal began. The dishes started to come and they were varied and succulent, including whole crabs and fascinating vegetables I had never seen before in flavors I had never even imagined. The fellowship was fueled by the strong clear liquor being served (Confucius Family liquor) in small shot sized glasses. Toasting is very important and Juefei had prepared us well for it. The elder Chinese at the table would offer a toast to me, the guest, and I would respond by raising my glass (mine should remain higher than theirs unless I was later trying to indicate my profound respect for a specific member of the table, and after downing it (kambe is the expression for "drink it dry") I needed to show the bottom of my glass to the person offering the toast. For more profound toasts we would all stand, and at times clink glasses together. I had been warned that they would attempt to get me drunk, and my defense was to fill my glass with water or soda instead of Confucius liquor. The toasting began and my training came in handy. As the various dishes came everyone would wait for me to sample it first, and at one point when I didn't notice a new dish had arrived one of my Chinese colleagues pointed to it and said "Help us out" so I took a taste so he could really dig in to what was obviously one of his favorites. There were soups, vegetable dishes, meat dishes (pork, chicken, duck, turtle, fish and who knows what else), moo-shi style pancake dishes, tofu dishes, breads, cookies, and other things I can neither describe nor remember, along with liquor, beer, water, soda, and of course tea. The dishes were amazing and the toasting continued. The conversation was a lively mix of Chinese and English with Qingli doing her usual excellent job of translating where necessary. She also did an excellent job of coaching me ("Watch out for that, it is very salty," "you need to drink this toast down in order to be polite," "He wants to take a picture with you," "Are you getting drunk?" and other helpful remarks) to make the meal successful.
Music at the banquet | My distinguished tablemates at the banquet
As the meal went on the entertainment began. Traditional Chinese instruments were played (both solo and in groups), traditional Chinese dances were performed, and it was very difficult to handle the flood of experience all hitting me at once -- food, conversation, drinking & toasting, as well as the performances.
Delegation heads and officials made the rounds to each table offering a toast to each table, and after they had made their rounds the crowd began becoming part of the entertainment. Tom Mays began by playing his Seneca flute, and instantly everyone at my table recognized him as a Native American, and he got a great response from the crowd. Soon Chinese members of the crowd began coming forward, mostly to sing, and sing very well. Mostly they sang traditional songs from Chinese operas which everyone in the audience seemed to know. At one point Prof. Sung, who had been so nice to me, sang a beautiful song, and later joined in a duet with a female professor. Then the Americans went up and Juefei told me I had to go, so I did. I was at least able to stand in the back. We sand "Auld Lang Syne" and then Dean burst into an a cappella version of the twist and the Americans began twisting and I guess the least I could do was give out a few frug moves and do the funky chicken. We left the stage and the Chinese returned for another rounds of songs. I was very impressed by their voices in terms of quality and range. Finally, all of the translators and others when the gender match wasn't right took the Americans on stage for some ballroom dancing. I thought I had escaped this one when Juefei motioned me to go up on stage. However, I had no dancing partner, and seeing this opportunity once I reached the stage I hid behind the curtains trying to vanish. Then the curtains were pulled aside and there was Qingli asking me to dance, and of course I agreed. As we danced she told me that her husband, whom she has said so many nice things about , is conservative and would prefer that she not dance, but I said that since we were both coerced into it we had a good excuse. The dance ended and we could leave the stage.
Juefei sings | Holden Waterman sings
Finally, after a few more toasts, Juefei and Professor Huang took the stage and thanked everyone after they sang a rousing Chinese song of friendship which everyone seemed to know and love. With that the evening was over and we went out to our bus for the ride back to the International Exchange Center. It was a jolly ride, as our translators were all with us and we have all grown quite attached to them.
I stumbled to my room and spellchecked my journal and reviewed my photos before falling into a deep sleep.
Tomorrow, the end of the conference, a tour of Confucius family mansion, and then the all night train to Beijing. I have now been on this trip for a week.