| Alfred C. Snider | April 15-16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 2001| Other Journals | Debate Central |
I awaken on schedule and work on my journal for the previous day. Feeling hungry I go down to breakfast a bit early and find it ready. As the people come in you can sense an air of excitement, as about half of them are making their presentation this morning and everyone knows that this is the last day of the conference.
Breakfast at the International Exchange Center at Qufu Teachers University
I leave a few minutes early to go to the small group session I will be facilitating, although I am not sure that 35-40 people is a small group. On the way over I walk with Juefei and we make plans for my visit to Inner Mongolia. They call during the walk and this facilitates the planning even more. Mobile phones are much more common in China than in America, and their services and features seem excellent. As we plan I begin to get more and more excited about my visit to Inner Mongolia.
I arrive in our room and find that Dean already has the LCD projector up and running and it looks like we will have no technical difficulties today. A good group has gathered and we begin right about on time. I introduce Dean with the usual comments as well as a joke about last night's banquet and the session has begun.
Dean makes his presentation | Very attentive audience
Dean's presentation was about the change in the school where he is a principal to a form of concept based education, emphasizing useful concepts instead of concrete knowledge. For example, it is better to know why a battle was fought, how it was fought, and what its consequences were than to focus on its precise debate, how many pounds of gunpowder were used, and other discrete bits of information. He also paints a very interesting picture of a rural junior high school in a relatively impoverished area (50% of students qualify for free lunches). His translator, who was extremely nervous previously, seems to do an excellent job. He follows his remarks with a PowerPoint presentation about his topic, and it was beautifully done given the excellent LCD projector which Holden Waterman had brought with him from the USA. After his presentation (which was well timed) he answered a number of questions and then stopped right on schedule so that our Chinese colleague could make his presentation.
Panelists for April 21 | Principal Fu makes his presentation, Xu Qingli translates
The Chinese presentation was by a Mr. Fu who talked about his experience in a rural middle school, where some students were highly motivated and others we not. Xu Qingli, my translator, translated his presentation for us. She did an excellent job and I was able to take copious notes. He said they divided students up into groups not so much based on ability as based on motivation so that those who were less motivated could receive instruction which would help engage them. He also described how motivation levels were different in various subject areas, so that a student in a low motivation group in one area might be in a high or middle motivation group in another. This allowed for the use of encouragement and positive feedback to try and increase success experiences and motivation, with students moving up to a higher motivation group when appropriate. His findi9ngs indicated that in the four years of this program they had increased academic achievement and also reduced drop-out rates, which are a problem among rural farm families who also need young hands to work at home. When it came time for questioning I asked about whether labeling students as less motivated might become a self-fulfilling prophecy for students and teachers, and he gave an excellent answer, that student movement from group to group had shown that this effect, although an issue they were aware of, had been overcome, and since drop out rates had declined he thought the difficulty had been avoided, since dropping out is the ultimate form of adverse labeling.
After the session we got a series of pictures with Mr. Fu and our Chinese facilitator for that session. I also got a photo of Dean and his translator as well as photos with some members of the audience who seemed to want to be in pictures even if it was on my camera. Oh well, they can download them from this website, and I hope they do.
We broke up and gathering and headed over to the closing session, which I intended to videotape. The closing session featured a summary of the vent by Prof. Sung, and closing remarks by Donna Howell and the VP of the University. Then there occurred the presentation of gifts. The American delegation presented bags of gifts (coordinated by Wayne Murray) to Chinese staff and translators. The Chinese presented a beautiful gold laminated painting to the American delegation as a gift, and it was extremely beautiful.
Click here to watch a video of the closing ceremonies. (not yet operational)
Official photo (author seated second from right front)
We boarded a bus to go to the hotel where most of the delegates were staying for a farewell luncheon. Once again it was in a lavishly decorated and filled with tables inside what seemed like a very nice hotel. There were about 300 people there. Once again I took a set (along with my translator Qingli) where I was the only American. The dishes came and the toasts started. I had a wonderful conversation with those at my table, especially a gentleman next to me whom I met as Principal Wei of a high school. He talked to me about creating debating activities in his school and gave me some beautiful color booklets which his students had assembled. I kept the toasts of Confucius liquor to a minimum since I knew I would be doing a lot of walking that afternoon. The food was magnificent. Once again the major conference organizers, both Chinese and American, walked around to the different tables for toasts. The time whizzed by and before long it was time to go. Everyone trooped out and we boarded our bus.
The bus took us back to the International Exchange Center for a quick change of clothes and we are off for a visit to Confucius family mansion. Mr. Xing is once again our guide, but Li Ardong is also along with us. On the way to the mansion we become embroiled in a gridlock situation at a busy downtown Qufu intersection. There seems to be no way out, and then a woman walking by enters the fray and started directing traffic trying to untie the Gordian knot of traffic. Within a few minutes she had solved the problem, and we all wave at her as we drive off, and she fades back into the crowd, continuing her errands. Who says citizen action can't solve problems? Not me.
We stop at a hotel to change some dollars into Yuan and people, of course, also do some shopping. We are delayed in leaving as they get distracted in some in-hotel shops. When we finally come together in a group we instinctively begin to boards the vans when we are told that we are very near and will walk. Indeed, we are less than 100 meters from our destination.
Gate to Confucius Mansion | The "Greed" monster
Our destination is the Confucius mansion. Not very popular during his lifetime, Confucius is glorified by later emperors who want to use his teachings to help them rule the vast land of China. They establish that this Confucius family (Kong is the family name) are the lords of Qufu and thus they remain for many, many centuries. This is their ancestral seat, as the eldest direct descendant is known as Lord Kong. They ruled from this place until 1949 when they fled to Taiwan as Mao and the communists took power.
We see a faded mural of a great monster who we are told is called Greed. It wants to own all the treasures of the world. It is shown already with many treasures, but it is not happy because it wants them all, and is chasing the sun which it wants to swallow. The mural is at the exit to the complex so that officials will see it and remember not to be greedy. We are told that it also is a popular feature in many administrative offices.
It is a very interesting place, and many of the rooms are furnished as they were in 1949 when the mansion was last occupied. These rooms are the most interesting feature of the place, although the way there are narrow entryways which would be easy to defend against attack and the tower to which the family could escape in times of danger (complete with large stocks of food and water) are also very interesting. One of the hallos contains a large collection of water colors of many of the lords of this place through history.
Excellent stones from the Confucius Mansion
My favorite part of the mansion is the rock garden at the most distant spot from the entrance. It is in a beautifully landscaped area and is filled with interesting stones. The Chinese love to use interesting large stones in their landscaping and courtyards. They prefer a very large stone, and stones are rated on three different criteria: 1. They must be tall and thin, not squat and fat, 2. They should have many holes and gouges in them, and 3. They should have a very bizarre shape so that you can look at them and imagine different things inside of them. At one point Li Ardong leads us in an imagination session as we try and discern what each of us sees in one particularly strange stone. Mr. Xing tells is that many of them are found at the bottom of lakes. I wonder at this, thinking what the job of fishing in lakes for great strange stones is like.
We linger in the garden and then make our way out of the mansion. As we begin to board the vans many of our group stray across the street to do more shopping. Some (like me) are vexed, and it is decided that one van will return to the center and the other will stay to allow people to shop before dinner.
Flowers in Confucius Mansion garden | Horse cart in streets of Qufu
We return to the center, and after a short break dinner is served. I arrange for a Flashpoint taping that evening at 8 PM, and the participants agree. We gather in Holden Waterman's room (because he has a large couch) to tape the show. The participants are Wang Juefei, Bonnie Ayer (principal of Flinn Elementary School in Burlington), Jim Lombardo (superintendent of Middlebury schools), Holden (superintendent of East Windsor schools in Connecticut) and myself. We have a spirited discussion about the conference and our experience and the time zips by, and we are done before we know it.
Watch this edition of FLASHPOINT by clicking here. (Not yet operational)
I pack up the equipment and head back to my room to do my packing. This is quite a shore because I have a lot of stuff and it is spread out over the entire room. During my packing Qingli calls and asks if she can visit me with her husband because she wants to present me with a gift. I encourage her to do so, but mention that I am leaving soon for the train station to go to Beijing with Juefei. She and her husband arrive just as I finish packing and they present m with two gifts, a bottle of Confucius liquor and (my favorite) a picture of them at their wedding, with the back contained a charming and touching personal message thanking me for all of my encouragement and support. Qingli has been wonderful to me as well as a highly skilled translator, and she seems to honestly appreciate my encouragement and confidence in her. I tell them both (her husband is also a language teacher at the university) that I hope to see them in America and hope to serve as a reference for them should they need one.
We head downstairs and a van is waiting to take Juefei and I to the train station. There are some sad good-byes (I hate good-byes, so I prefer "until we meet again") and we drive off into the night, waving farewell all the way.
It is just Juefei and I with three companions, including Mr. Xing and Janet Xing who works in Beijing and has taught in the Asian Studies program at UVM. The roads outside of town seem crowded with trucks, and I see where police have pulled over vehicles and are writing them up for some violation.
We arrive at the train station, but it is different than the station where we arrived, being much bigger and much busier. Our luggage goes through an x-ray machine and we soon find ourselves on the platform waiting for the train to arrive. It soon arrives and we say more "until thens" and we get on the train. Three of us are in a compartment for four along with an architect who has just had his plans for a plaza in Qufu approved. I volunteer for a top bunk, and I am pleased to find that it is actually wider than the bottom bunk. As the train pulls out of the station we adjourn to the dining car to have a conversation.
It is here that I finally have a chance to talk to Juefei about the trip so far and my reactions and suggestions. We have a frank exchange of views about the program and his goals for it as time goes on. It is clear that these visits to China are important, but his real goal is to use these visits as a mechanism to increase the study of Asia in New England schools at all levels, and we already has such programs operating in over 100 schools. It is one of the first extended and very serious conversations Juefei and I have had, since we usually do a lot of kidding around the office.
We also talked about my observations of the trip and the conference and I expressed a number of concerns and also ideas which could be used to improve future trips. Juefei seemed receptive to these and asked a number of probing questions as well.
The hour was getting late so we went back to the cabin and I lifted my considerable bulk into a top bunk and tried to go to sleep but with little success. There were too many ideas buzzing in my head and I sifted through them as the train swayed gently through the night. I was excited because I was on my way, ultimately, to Inner Mongolia.