The long and winding road, I saw it again here. It will never disappear.
No matter what u have done, you are always my teacher. And i am grateful for what u have taught me.
A country, billions of people.
Although there are a lot of ugly and dirty things,
there must also be a lot of beautiful things.
If you are not blind,
if you are living,
you should be able to see them.
you are just too ignorant.
I say: the next big thing for Americans to fight for is to liberate the foreigners. You laugh and say: America is only for Americans. I say: well, think of the people of the world.
Where I grew up is a very beautiful place. If you have a big enough tourist guide for China, you should be able to find it. But when I was a child, it was not developed yet, and thus was very quiet and provided a lot of fun for my childhood.
There is a very beautiful river just behind my home with a beautiful name: peach stream river. It goes through several different personalities along its short 2000 meters route through that area.
In the upper section is a big reservoir. The water is very deep (about 3 meters) and quiet, with very high cliff along one side and beautiful mountains on the other side. It is kind of a challenge for kids to swim there.
As the river flow out of the reservoir, it rushes down stairs, roaring very loudly. We used to sit on the stairs, trying not to be taken away by the river and at the same time roaring together with the river.
Immediately after the reservoir, the river comes to a bed full of rocks (I guess the rocks are left from building the dam). The river is very shallow, just flowing slowly across those small rocks. There are big meadows in the river. There are usually cows herded on the meadow. Sometimes we can see one or two beautiful white horses.. This is a very good place for catching fishes. My big brother is very good at catching fishes with hands. He just walked slowly upstream, putting his hands shaped like a bowl in the river. When he slides his hands under the fish (because he walked upstream, he didn’t disturb the water. So the fish wasn’t even aware of being swimming in his hand.) He then quickly took the fish out of water. We then will have delicious fish soup which we cooked on the meadow, together with some crabs and vegetables. My younger brother and me never learned to catch the fish with bare hands. But we can get the crabs. Sometimes crabs can be hard to get when you go after them in a fissure along the bank of the river. The fissure is usually very narrow, about one finger wide. You have to put your fingers in and use them as a kind of bait. The crab will then claw your finger. Then you endure the pain, pull the crab out of the fissure a little, and put your other fingers on the back of the crab and get your suffering bait finger released.
As the river flows down, it comes to a very beautiful section. This is where we usually swim. There is sand beach on one side of the bank. On the other side of the river is a slope cliff, covered with branches. There is a big cave on top of that, and the cold water flow down the cave. Thus we have a beautiful waterfall. The water under the waterfall is very cold. We used to have contests to see who can stay in that colder water longer. There is also a very small (5 meters in diameter) island right in the middle of the river. It stands out like a stage. We used it as a jumping platform, from which we jumped into the river with different postures.
Sometimes, we laid down on a rubber wheel and flow down the river for about 1000 meters. Then we come to a section where people usually fish there. The water is flowing faster there, with a lot of rocks harboring home for fishes.
Then the river becomes very wide, with many big meadows in between. Flocks of cows are herded on the meadows. This is a focal point of that area. With a very big mountain called Belly Mountain looking over the whole area. On the other side is a big forest. An ancient temple sits in front of the forest along the river. We often run over to the bridge to do morning exercise, and watch the sunrise. The sunset there is especially beautiful. I never saw the same beautiful sunset anywhere else later in my life. I guess it is because our sky is very low (we are on high mountains) and it is often cloudy. At the sunset, we see half the sky filled with different colors and shapes of clouds. We were always fascinated by that.
When I was about 4 years old, the big brother from my neighbor took me to walk on the bank of the river. That is the first time in my life to walk on the winding narrow “threads” (which separated the rice fields) along the river. The deep green grasses, the hopping grasshopper, the flying dragonflies, the butterflies, jumping over the gaps, all these are still very vivid before me even up to now. This river is going to teach me many things in my life.
There is a big wooden boat in the kindergarten hanging by chains in the air. We used to climb in the boat and have other kids rock the boat. That boat has always a sense of mystery and romance in the bottom of my heart. Maybe that is how kids start on romantic feelings.
Some teachers in the kindergarten were harsh on kids. And kids were quite scared of them. But there is a white-haired teacher named Mrs. Hao, who is very good at telling stories. Kids love her very much. Every time she tells a story, the whole room is filled with all kids of the kindergarten. All quiet, not making any sound. Mrs. Hao would often pat on her belly, start by saying “let me see what story I have today in my belly”. This is the first time I heard of the stories of Monkey King in my life. Those stories painted many colors in my life. I think probably it is from that time my life is always colorful. Literature, romantic feelings, are all seeded right there. Even so many boring Chinese classes I had to take later at schools couldn’t kill those seeds. For my whole life, I am very grateful to Mrs. Hao.
China at that time are almost all of “work units” which are kind of like the communes that the westerners were experimenting or trying to experiment in the 60s or 70s. There is a big grass field in the center of the “work unit”. People used to play soccer there. When we were kids, we liked to catch grasshoppers and dragonflies. Dragonfly is my favorite insect. There are many different kinds of dragonflies. We usually just catch those fly low on the grass and usually like to stop a while on the grass leaves. The yellow and red dragonflies (we call yellow pepper and red pepper) fly very high in the sky and they are very fast. Thus it is very difficult to catch them. It will be a thrill if you ever caught a yellow or red dragonfly. Yellow dragonflies usually fly in large groups. Red dragonflies, however, fly individually.
Along the river, the dragonflies are different. There are those very big ones with very big green eyes. They are very beautiful. It is a big reward if you spotted and caught that kind of dragonfly. There also another kind of dragonfly along the river. They are very thin, small, in black and green. They usually fly very low and thus easy to catch. You might be able to catch them just in the air.
The spring time is our time to fly kites in the grass field. The big brother next door made a device for me so I can release thread quickly when the wind comes and take in the thread quickly when the wind slows down. We usually buy a lot of threads and fly the kites very far away until it is just a very tiny point (smaller than the rice grain) in the distant sky. We can send telegraph to the sky (by putting a small piece of paper on the thread). We line up and lay down on the grass, watching our kites flying high in the sky with the white clouds. We can just lay down watching our kites for a long time. It is one of the most enjoyable things in my childhood. Even now I still have a habit of looking at the sky. I don’t know if it is because of that.
On there grass field, there are stone lions, yellow slopes. the stone lions are usually the place we kids gather and chat. The yellow slope is whether we play the game of attacking a castle, with the offenders climbing up the slope and the defenders rolling down soil blocks trying to stop the offenders. We play all kinds of games in the grass field. This is our playground. In the summer, there will be full of little white flowers here. As you walk in the grass, it is like the whole world is with such green grasses and white flowers.
I learned the names of all these insects and plants from my little friends. My family don’t teach much of these. Maybe my parents don’t know much of these either. But some kids know quite a lot, and I learned quite tremendously from them. In the “working unit” or “commune”, older kids and younger kids are playing together. Our parents are coming from all over the country. So you can always learn many things.
We grew flowers in the gardens in front of our apartments. Some families had more experiences and they taught us how. We also play with the mud, making them into various shapes. We small kids can only make some simple figures. But the big sisters can make more complicated ones, and are what we look up to. I remember I made a meditating monk on a cushion. I even put it in the stove and waxed it. In the kindergarten, we learn from older kids how to fold paper planes, paper rockets or boats, how to draw airplanes, boats, tanks, and so on.
My childhood is full of wonder and always very colorful. Having Grown up there, we always wanted to go back to take a look.
Encounter with death
When I was six years old, I witnessed a drowning of a little friend. It greatly shocked me. That day in the kindergarten, and when watching movies with parents, it is always lingering in my mind. I kept thinking what happen to people after they die. I could not imagine there would be one day that I would not be able to go catch the dragonflies anymore, or fly the kites anymore. Death, is a very dreadful thing to me, but seems to be a thing that I have to face. But the adults always say once you get old, you are not scared of death anymore. When I look at their lives, I am thinking, that is probably because they have nothing worth living anymore. Their life has become boring, and unlike the wonderfulness that filled our kids’ lives. Catching dragonflies, flying the kites, might get not as much fun after you have played for many times. So man should always have new worlds to play with so he can always play like a kid? This issue of death, is always something that will come up in my mind later. When I am a little older, I noticed that the adults in the working unit don’t change much after hitting 30 years old. It is all the same life over and over again. I am thinking then, no wonder you are not afraid of death anymore.
Finally it is time to go to school. I didn’t like the school from the very beginning. There are too many rules. But for our school, which is run by the working unit and taught by our parents, it is relatively better. In the first grade, we only had two classes each day. So you only spend about 2 or 3 hours in the school in the morning, and you can play like before for the rest of the day. But we can sense the seriousness the adults have on our schooling. So even we don’t like it, we know we should endure it.
In the winter or summer holidays, I often go to my father’s office. I saw many of the adults were reading newspapers at work (parents later said I didn’t get to see them doing experiments). I was thinking then how wonderful to be adults, no homework, no tests. So I was looking forward to the day that I don’t need to go to school and take tests anymore. When I finally finished my graduate study in America, after the very last exam of my life, I went to celebrate it with my friends.
There was entrance exam for going to school. I was already able to write a lot of characters. I don’t remember how I learned it. We learned Pinyin in the first grade. After that, we are able to read many characters by ourselves. So I start reading all the articles in the textbook by myself. The teacher doesn’t seem very useful in this regard. I liked reading very much then. I would stoop down to read the piece of papers on the ground if there were words on it.
When I first got into school, mom made sure that I at least study 1 or 2 hours every night to review the classes of that day . Actually there wasn’t much to review for the first grader. So I usually finished reviewing quite quickly. For the rest of the time, I have no choice but keeping reciting the book while lying on the bed. At that time, we need to go to school (and work for our parents) for half a day on Saturdays. So I was required my my mom to stay at home in the afternoon to review the courses. And on Sunday, i still need to spend the morning for course review. At the beginning, I remember it was a little difficult to form these habits. I still wanted to go outside to play. Later I feel accustomed. so my foundation has been quite solid from the very beginning. Now I wonder what role such habit of review and reflection have played? I am a person of reflection from very early on. So I think I should be able to develop the reflection habit and skills all by myself, just like how I did when in college. But with this habit, at least in the school centered learning, it kept me always having enough time to build up my foundation step by step.
The teachers in our school are also workers of our working units. They are co-workers with our parents. So these teachers mostly taught us like teaching their own kids. For example, our math teacher is very caring of the students. She is really teaching you how to do math. And kids like us, due to family environment and environment in the working unit, we mostly have some interests in maths and are ready for such kind of math learning. So the process of learning math and so on are still pleasant for us. Some kids might be naughty and cannot control themselves, so they might get a little lower scores. But overall, students graduated from our school are very welcomed by the city school and have a quite good reputation there.
My family is also a scientific and engineering background. On the bookshelf, it is full of science and engineering books. My older brother have a very strong interest in science and technology. He bought many books in math and outer space. For me, probably because I heard too many of Mrs. Hao’s wonderful stories, I always fill the world is full of wonders, and I am more tuned towards literature and humanity. I can do math quite well, and I am willing to spend time on hard math problems. But if there are some literature books nearby, you can be guaranteed that I will pick up literature books first. So I finished my older brother’s Chinese and history text book very quickly (my brother is 5 years old than me.) After that, I finished his math books and outer space books.
Although I didn’t get to read many classic novels as a kid, I read quite many children’s books, sketch books, magazines, and so on. As kids, we often exchange books to read. Once in middle school, we gathered and stood up for the whole night for reading and sharing what we have read.
We actually have a lot of time to play when in the primary school. In the summer, we often played until it is dark. So if you have a good habit in learning, it doesn’t take you much time. Every year, we still can focus on learning and playing with something from time to time. For example, playing table tennis, we focused on that for a couple of years, and we almost played it everyday. When the class bell ring, we run out of the class to play table tennis. When it run again, we rush back. We played at noon and at weekends. Later we did the same with skating, biking, fishing, swimming, hiking, and so on.
There are a lot of mountains in our area. We used to go hiking a lot in the summer. It is always a kind of adventure since we always choose places we haven’t been to and we usually took a full day and go very far. We once set out to look for the source of a small stream. Along the way, we went through many different places. Growing up in the mountains, in my later life I found the plain can be so boring since there is no change and no surprise. I think it is when I was 15 years old I decided to go hiking just by myself. I went very far into the high mountains. It is an experience of myself and challenging myself. As Mr. Gatto said, people need large dose of solitude to develop themselves. Of course, people also need a lot of interaction with other people to be a complete human being. You need both solitude and interaction to be complete. Life is indeed very interesting. After I came back from my adventure, people were surprised that I did that just by myself. Other kids were inspired and wanted to do that themselves.
It is a great experience to climb to the top of the mountains. I always enjoy the view from the top of a high mountain.
Sometimes we go very far away to seek the source of the creek. The changing scenery along the road, the feelings of adventure, are all affecting my whole life. Sometimes we stand in the river for the whole afternoon fishing. With the sun shining on our head, with all kinds of grasses in the water and insects swimming or walking, your ears full of the sounds of the nature, you keep your eye on the surface of the water, waiting for the fish to swallow the bait. Your whole person, together with the sound, with the sky, melted together. If you have owned that kind of world, it will be much easier for you to face the adult world later in your life.
The working unit is quite a safe play ground for us. We always have many kids playing together, running around, playing hide and seek, or some kind of ambush attacks, or chasing… We climb to high chimney, or jump down from high ground, running on the wall. We got up very early in the morning– 5am, ran very far, came back and the played soccer or basketball. Big kids and little kids playing together. Sometime with adults. You learn tremendously from these playing. Kids today have no where to play and no one to play with. What kids need for learning is actually simply a safe play ground where they can play with each other and with adults.
I still remember those summer nights when people gathered under the tree under the lamp, listening to adults talking about their stories, how they look back on their lives. I still remember them discussing how early they can remember stories of their lives. Some said the earliest went back to 6 years old. I was then wondering how much I can remember when I grew old. At that time I still could remember things when I was 4 years old. I thought I would not forget those.
I always feel that these things are really learning. They are the kind of learning we need for our lives.
In the school, there are a lot of sports or arts activities. A lot of parents in the institution are very talented. Thus we had a chance to be exposed to different things. The institution had a very strong soccer team that my brothers and I benefited a lot from. My younger brother is especially very talented in soccer.
So with this beautiful place, with many little friends to play together, some caring teachers in the school, not too heavy school work, still plenty of time of playing, people of all ages together. This environment, is my Sudbury Valley School. The only thing we don’t have as much as in Sudbury Valley School is the management by students. Only in my 1st grade, we did run our little library , and sold scraps for charity. Although only two small things, they had great impact on my life, giving me the space to reflect on how we can make our environment better by our hands.
Education and Sudbury Valley School
I never paid much attention to mundane life concerns. For example, I barely know about retirement plan or insurance. Sometimes I spent time learning of them only hoping to learn the culture and society through it. To me, life is too precious to waste on these tedious processes. Individuals should have the freedom to develop his full potential, which is why mobility is essential. I think this is what Americans believe in. Those oversea Chinese are practical. I am more on my dream and passion.
When I first arrived at the states, I realized my top priority should be learning of English and American culture. But school work and lab work are quite heavy, especially for a new comer. As a fellowship student, I have to maintain a high GPA to keep the fellowship. So I rarely have time to speak, not to mention practicing English. Finally at the last semester, I didn’t have to get a high score to keep my fellowship. I put most of my time and energy into learning English and American culture. I made many friends. With my thesis work, I think good enough is enough. I read of thesis of previous graduate and I thought it is not difficult to write a thesis of that quality. And ever since my undergraduate study, I have learned how to just get enough score and so that I could focus my time on learning that I deemed really important for my growth.So I think I am able to control my time well. However, this time, there is a very tough professor sitting on my thesis committee. He was probably angry that I didn’t consult much with him in my working on my thesis. He held a very high standard for the thesis. At the end, I had to stay in the lab for 4 days working continuously. I only got some cookies from the vending machine, and drink water. I got about 6 hours sleep for the 4 days. 3 hours each for the first 2 nights. And totally no sleep for the last 2 nights.My arms and legs were all numb except my fingers were still typing very fast and my brain was still running very fast. I redid all the experiments and redid the analysis.The result was astonishing, as professors on the committee used many “very” to describe it. And I got trained in the very strict scientific thinking. For what I deemed important, I pushed myself to limit.
I successfully transfered to Computer Science and started to do the research in elearning field, which I think is the passion of my life and what my whole life points to. For 3 years, I stayed in the lab from 6am to 11pm. I wasn’t even taking days off during the thanksgiving holidays and Christmas.Finally it came down to me that I had to start get social again and learn English and culture. So I worked in the dining hall, volunteered in various grassroots organizations (community radio station, bookstore, river cleaning, and so on). There are very rich things to learn from American grassroots. That was a great time. But it was supposed to be my time to find a good job. I had been a quite good student in Computer Science and get all the high scores, and did very intensive programming. But as I hurried into job seeking process, it was hard for me to recall many things as I was much into the cultural things at that time. And you know those job interviewing process, even if you are always programming, you still need to prepare yourself specially for these interviews. So with not much time left, I quickly went through various topics and found a job. But I probably had missed my best opportunities, and that probably gave me all the troubles afterwards.
For many years, I put a lot of my energy in something that didn’t exist in the industry. I was trying to realize the real life learning, but the industry is all about classroom learning or learning to pass tests. I picked python as my programming language of choice although the obvious mainstream language was Java and there were very few python position available at the time. I am glad to see that these choices start to seem like right ones as I can see that many new innovative elearning companies (including many startups) are adopting python as their main language and their focus is more and more on real life learning. I did try to reach many of these elearning companies. They are very interested in my background. Only because I am currently in China, it is difficult for them to hire me at the moment. But I think I can contribute remotely at this time.
For my passion and my dream, I have gone through all the ups and downs in my life. As Americans love to talk about passion and dream, here in China, people dare not talk about such things. Also once you get married, there are other concerns that you have to have as a loving gentlemen. :) I guess that is where things get very complicated.
I tried. Very difficult this year. Will try again next year.
Last updated Mar 26th
I always believe that one important aspect of future learning/education is that everyone can become a teacher. To be more specific, people who really have rich learning experiences and domain knowledge — usually those accomplished professionals — should be able to teach and guide learners effectively in their spare time. Thus we will really change the profession of teaching, and bring out the true value of “teaching”. We can see now that many websites are making efforts in this direction. Some allow individual teachers to host a class online and teach students like in a classroom. Some connect individual teachers and learners so that the teachers can teach offline face to face. But all these current efforts have serious drawbacks. They didn’t fully leverage the power of internet, and they cannot compete with the current mainstream teaching, e.g. the classroom teaching in schools.
What 3exps.org is trying to bring about is something that is dramatically different. Let’s say, someone who wants to learn something, for example, software programming, photography or management, post his request. People who think they can teach can answer the request by commenting or giving a simple learning/starting plan for the learner. For example, what good books there are, what areas the learner need to learn, what kind of path that he will go through. Or the teacher can share with the learner the learning material he has organized with the notebook. Based on these infos, the learner can decide who can be his teacher. He can have one or several teachers. So the teachers can give out specific areas that the learner can try. The learner has to make notes of what he has learned in the process and questions he has. The teachers need to provide feedbacks and guidelines in time. The teacher can also share his learning materials. The charge of service might be free for the starting period. Then the learner need to pay to get continued service.
This way the teacher knows where the students are in their study and the teacher is able to provide very effective and timely guidance to the students. The teacher can also use 3exps.org to record his own learning experiences and learning materials, and provide them later for the students to study. These learning resources are unlike the traditional ones, which are just knowledge that need to be memorized. These new resources include the teacher’s own experiences and reasoning in his exploration of knowledge. The students are supposed to replicate similar experiences and reasoning in their own various daily activities and construct their own knowledge. So the teaching shifts away from traditional way of filing in students with knowledge and starts to focus on guiding students in their exploring and building their own knowledge. The students also get trained to form the habit and skills of self-reflection, which should be the center of learning. Thus compared to other sites, 3exps.org provides a more complete learning experience. And the research work of knowledge engine, provides the technology backbone of the above process.
In United States, more and more learning centers and schools are starting to bring contemplative skills and methodologies back into learning and teaching, and start to have very powerful impact. I think the future learning won’t be like the current schools, where the students are supposed to grasp (quite often memorize) the knowledge in the book and pass the tests. Learning will not be separated from real life. Learners learn to solve their problems or to live a better life. Teachers are those who are able to guide the students in that process, helping students bring their experiences and reasoning together to reach some systemic knowledge and understanding. With 3exps.org and knowledge engine, we hope we can start to explore a systemic way to do this.