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. It goes through several different personalities along its short 2000 meters route through that area.
In the upper region is a big reservoir. The water is very deep (at least 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 flows 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 water 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 bare 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 swimming in his hands.) 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 fissures 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 region. This is where we usually swim. There is a beach of sand 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 sprint water flowing 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 used tire and flew down the river for about 1000 meters. Then we came to a section where people usually fish there. The water is flowing faster there, with a lot of rocks harboring home for fishes.
The river grew very wide there, with several large 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 ran over to the bridge to do morning exercises, 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 on chains. 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 had no companies. What they had were called “work units” which were 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 flying low among the grass and stopping 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 would be a thrill and an honor 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 are also another kind of dragonfly along the river. They are very thin, small, in black and green. They usually fly very low and thus it is easy to catch them. You might be able to catch them just in the air with your hand.
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 pull 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 among 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 where we play the game of attacking a castle, with the offenders climbing up the slope and the defenders rolling down balls of earth 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 kids 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 drowning of a little friend. It greatly shocked me. That day in the kindergarten, and when watching movies with parents that night, it was always lingering in my mind. I kept thinking what happened to people after they died. I could not imagine there would be one day that I would not be able to go catch dragonflies anymore, or fly the kites. 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 lives have 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 comes up in my mind later. When I was 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 not that bad. 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 I can sense the seriousness the adults have on our schooling. So even I didn’t like it, I know I 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 were able to read many characters by ourselves. So I started reading all the articles in the textbook by myself. The teacher didn’t seem very useful in this regard. I liked reading very much then. I would stoop down to read the piece of paper 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 keep reciting the book while lying on the bed. At that time, we need to go to school for half a day on Saturdays. So I was asked by 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 so I wouldn’t fail the tests.
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 middle schools in the city and have a quite good reputation there.
My family has a science 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 on math and outer space. For me, probably because I heard too many of Mrs. Hao’s wonderful stories, I always feel 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 on the table, 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 the 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 got 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 rung, we ran out of the class to play table tennis. When it rung again, we rushed 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 walked very far. We once set out to look for the origin 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 mountain top.
Sometimes we go very far away to seek the origin 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 fishing for the whole afternoon. With the sun shining over your heads, 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 eyes on the surface of the water, waiting for the fish to bite the bait. Your whole body, 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 playground 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 then played soccer or basketball. Big kids and little kids playing together. Sometime with adults. You learn tremendously from these playing. Kids today have nowhere to play and no one to play with. What kids need for learning is actually simply a safe playground where they can play with each other and with adults.
I still remember those summer nights when people gathered under the lamp in the tree, 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 democratic participation in school management. 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.
Reflection on schooling
I disliked school from the very beginning. I didn’t like the loss of freedom there. And later I felt more and more of the things that went wrong with school. It is a waste of my time. When in the primary school, in the summers, sometimes I went over my geographic textbooks or nature textbooks, I realized a lot of things in those books are quite useful and should be remembered. Although I memorized them when taking the test, I had forgotten them all by then. So what was the point to memorize them at the first place? so I learned that many things you read in the book are going to be forgotten anyway, what mattered is whether you remembered what you deemed important. So after that, before every semester, I would preview the textbook first, to see what I should learn in the textbook. Then I would just understand and remember those things. Then I think I accomplished the course. As for the tests, I just did a little preparation, memorizing a little more before the test. Then it is ok. The study became less burdensome. I learned what I think important, with still a good score.
When in the first year of the middle school, we finally had a new Chinese teacher. In the previous 5 years, our Chinese class had been repetitive summarizing the main content of articles in the textbook, just following the teacher’s reference book as it is. One day the teacher found that one of the students had one teacher’s reference book on his desk, and we all knew that this teacher was just repeating what was in the teacher’s book.
But this new teacher is very different. He was managing our school library for years before then. He really likes literature, and he reads a lot of books. He would reflect on the Chinese education in school, and find new ways to lead us to explore literature and writing. His reflection and self-initiative to change the existing environment inspired me greatly. This teacher later became a reporter in the local TV station. I also had a very good Chinese teacher in my high school. He is also a teacher who is very fond of literature, and very good at reflecting on Chinese education in the middle schools.
The tests and study in the middle school
Overall, these are quite boring years of my life. I didn’t get to learn much in these years. There are many things to do other than study. Later when in US, I often have dreams of my times in China. But they are mostly from my childhood times and from my college times. My middle school years never showed up in my dreams.
College, finally the time to learn freely
When I finally finished my middle school and got accepted into college, I knew this was the first time in my life that I would finally be able to learn freely. I treasured this kind of chance. I knew in my heart that I had lost a lot of time to the college entrance exam. I was supposed to spend a lot of time to explore my life, to accomplish the growth from youth to adulthood. But i seldom had time to do that kind of learning I needed because of the exam. When I graduated from high school, I still knew nothing of society. So when I got in the college, I knew that I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally I was in control of my time, I can learn freely and spend crazy amount of time to make up what I have lost in my middle school.
So I learned very crazily in college, utilizing all my time and all kinds of resources. In my college, only 5% of my knowledge is learned in school classroom. All else are learned through extensive reading, going to lectures in the city, social practices, and selling stuff on the street. Through extensive reading, i got to know what are the real nutrition of our culture. For example, the intellects 100 years ago, how they reflected on our culture. The history of culture revolution, which can teach you tremendously about our culture. I got to know many great people that are never in the textbook, found newspapers that are truly thought-provoking and full of humanity, and learned how to do critical thinking from reading these newspapers. Through selling stuff on the street, I learned how to make judgement, how to get myself out of the bondage of the traditional moral values taught at school but never worked in society, and get to know how to find the true principles to stick to, how to pursue the true values.
All these processes of growth are natural for Sudbury Valley School students, and should be accomplished before 18 years old. I have to make it up after I endured the college entrance exam.
While in college, I experienced 2 darkest time of my life. One is the short military training that is mandatory in all Chinese colleges. The other is the learning of history of culture revolution. I couldn’t believe people would do those horrible things. And these people are people around me. They didn’t disappear with culture revolution. The soil is till there. I am also part of it. This was when I lost my innocence. But maybe it is the wonderfulness of my childhood, that makes me believe that even so the world is still very wonderful, still full of colors. People’s nature got twisted. That is a very sad tragedy. But we can make efforts to find out how people’s nature got twisted, to find the cause and the process, to change the soil. And from my own experiences of growth and my experiences with school, I know that twisting has a lot to do with school.
My childhood friends, some of them went to college, some of them didn’t. I grew up with them. I know they are also very smart. If they could go to college, I believe they were able to finish the college too. Then they wouldn’t get subject to so much limitation in their lives. With their talents, if there is no such limitation, they should be able to contribute to the society a lot more. Of course, a society based on mass production doesn’t seem to think so.
Education and Sudbury Valley School
I always feel very close to Sudbury Valley School. Seeing how kids play there, I was often reminded of my childhood. I have too many similar things with them. Always busy, choose what I like to do, willing to spend time, always think that it is individual’s responsibility to contribute to society, and society needs participation from everyone, always confident with myself, believing I can learn anything. The same colorful childhood, the same disbelief in the necessity of the conventional schooling. I recommended Sudbury Valley School to many people. They always have doubts. Or they say they believe, but deep in their hearts, they have doubts. Like those parents who send their kids to sudbury, and later withdrew their kids because they couldn’t stand their kids fishing all days, or even all years. But deep in my heart, I know that sudbury model is the most perfect model for child education. Children need a safe playground to play freely with other children, and sudbury is a place you can easily learn what you want to learn. For adults, the whole society is our sudbury. We need make self-learning easier, so everyone can learn in real life, and play better.
From my experiences, I know the sudbury model contains all the elements of child education, and is the most perfect model. There is no life wasted, and it suits everyone. The issue of why sudbury cannot spread to the whole society is not because there is some problem with the sudbury model. It is because of the problem of the society. It is the adults who have deep misunderstanding of education. When adults talk about education, they always talk about other people’s learning. It seems learning has nothing to do with them. They only know to pass down the wrong conceptions on educations they have got used to when they were in schools. So we have to ask for a learning revolution in the adults. Ask the adults to truly explore and feel what is the most effective way to learn.
Sudbury, is in the past, in the future, it is also in our daily lives. It is a dream, a hope, it is also an reality in this dreamy life.
This is my Sudbury Valley School. Where is your Sudbury Valley School? Let’s go look for it together!
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.
This was what I have realized right before I went to the states for the first time: You are the choices you have made. Now I realize it deeply again.
Recently it was in contact with several of my old classmates in college. They have been professors in the states. I cannot help but feel the great contrast btw the different paths that we have chosen. If I didn’t quit my Ph.D program to pursue my passion on software programming and elearning (realizing real life learning), I could have been professors as well. This is the most stable path for us foreigners in the states. But I disliked doing research at school very much since when I was doing research on elearning I saw so many wasteful and meaningless research papers. None of those papers aimed at solving the problem. Instead they are just creating problems. Yes, probably you have sensed, all my life has been about something bigger. Ever since my childhood, I realized that human life is very precious and I have to strive very hard to experience fully of it. So I always tried to expand myself to the fullest and not to limit myself.
But life has its age. When I became 30s, I had to realize that my body is not as young as before. Now at my age, I also realize that I cannot keep expanding without any concern of the so called mundane life. If I think having a family is what I cannot give up on in my life and it is a very important experience to have babies, then I have to give my attention to them now. At certain age, something can wait, something cannot wait. In the past, I didn’t want to give any thoughts to that since I really need to cherish the time to expand fully when I am still young. I thought I had to come to America to see people and culture different from us. So I came. I thought I really like programming and elearning is really what my life points to. So I changed my major to computer science and did research on elearning. I still remember how happy I was when I changed to Computer Science successfully. How I felt when I told people that I was in CS major and how I felt when I truly become a professional in this field. The kind of energy I had worked so passionately in this field up to this day.
In my life, in the past I don’t quite understand people who are always concerned with the so called mundane life. Now I think I come to understand their values and views since I need to think of that as well. I can understand it is very normal for people to think like that if they haven’t experiences that clearly as I experienced in my childhood. These so called mundane concerns are not mundane either. People need to be well-grounded. And these give you a good foundation to be at ease and enjoy your life so you can keep healthy and pursue other things bigger. Not to mention that my parents are getting older too. In China, parents give all of themselves out when taking care of the kids and in a way they have to rely on their children to give back when they grow old. This is the cultural norm here, and you should give back the love you received. So I think what is life about. If I want to understand normal folks and this is what they live, I should have this experience as well. For those passions and dreams, since I have laid a good foundation for them and there is no major area that I have to expand myself into now, I think they can wait a little and I need to see when the opportunity comes up. In a sense, I feel it is like how in the past I didn’t spend much time on the girlfriend seeking thing and just wait for the right opportunity come up and meet the right person — there is really not much you can do about it.
In my past, I put all my energy in understanding the field I am working in, for example, what is really learning. I tried hard to conquer several big areas, for example, being able to explore freely with programming. I aim only at solving the problem. But those understanding and skills I gained are hard to be translated to job market terms. As I have always been trying to create the future learning, what I need now is to prove myself in the existing industry. After all, you have to grow stronger and you need to work with others to build things. So I think this is what I am learning now.
As I am reading through the current landscape of what people are innovating in the learning/education field in America, what I have outlined several years ago as what we can work on to realize future learning have mostly been worked on: http://www.3exps.org/social/leon/framebook/notes/note/17659/?&pick_lang=E
So it is really going to change soon. For more than 10 years, I have been working on something that is not going to have any employment opportunities in the industry. Now, there are a lot of job opportunities. If you really want to make real life learning the mainstream learning, there are plenty of work for you to do. So you had better start caring about the real learning instead of learning that is centered around the traditional school classroom teaching. There will be less and less those jobs available.
Note: below is a question I asked a friend who is a neural scientist. I thought it would be good to share it here.
For a long time, I am trying to understand how language, consciousness, aging are connected. Maybe you can answer my puzzles or give me some suggested reading.
I am interested in understanding the relationship of language and consciousness. Knowledge of this will help understanding many things. For kids before age 12, for most of them, whatever they do, it is actually for the growth of language. They learn things around them, but it is actually for the development of language. And with the development of language the consciousness in their brain grows as well. As I have experienced when living in the states, there seems to be such feelings that something in my brain was growing whenever I learned a new expression. At that time, I was trying not to let other things interfere with this growth so it can grow continuously. After I came back to China, for at least one year, when I spoke Chinese, I still need to first think in English and then convert it to Chinese. When I was thinking, I thought in English. When I went back to where I went for college or where I grew up, it was a whole layers of past memory dug up, which had been buried deeply for a long time. So it seems that my learning of English and American culture formed its own layer. Once this layer gets stronger, it is not easy to break it. As foreigners, we usually speak a quite broken English, and it is easy to break it up. Whenever I spoke with my parents over the weekend, I found it difficult to pronounce English on Monday. (But maybe this doesn’t have to be so. And I am not sure if other foreigners have experienced the same thing.) There was once that when playing soccer with friends on Monday I yelled out Kongzhi (in Chinese it means control) the ball. I had two things mixed up.
So for foreigners living in the states, they have to perform adult functions and carry out adult responsibilities. Those are the social functions of the brain, which develop after the develop of language. For the foreigners what their brains need is to be proficient with the language first, e.g. have that basis of consciousness grown and form a layer of substrate, on top of which social functions can grow. The foreigners have their experiences of these social functions stored in their brain. But probably it is more strongly associated with the substrate of their mother tongue. The consciousness has to grow again on the new substrate in the new culture.
Social functions are also important for the health of the brain. Doctors said detainee of Guantanamo bay may suffer brain damage because of extreme isolation. National Geography’s special issue about Intelligence of animals points out that social interaction is responsible for the intelligence in animals.
OK, above has been a little messy. Let me sum up. Social functions are important for the health of human brain (more so than for animals). Social functions grow on the substrate of language. Learning of a language is actually growing the consciousness. And a language will form its own layer of consciousness.
What can be studied is probably to study how foreigners brain change as s/he learn the language. A span of 10 years of following (or at least 5 years) the subjects might be necessary. Or compare brains of bilinguals with those who only speak one language, and see what differ. Whether an old age makes the brain difficult to grow the consciousness related to language?
Do these observation and questions make sense? It is written in a hurry. I should need more time to refine and make it more logical. My questions might have been answered by scientists and I just don’t know. These are interesting things to me, and I think understanding them is very important.
With all the debates on immigration reform in congress, I hope Americans can have a bigger vision for their future in thinking of these. If Americans worried that Thomas Paine may steal American jobs, American revolution probably would never have happened. I am not sure of the exact historical situation then. Reading from the wikipedia, “Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin and he arrived in time to participate in the American Revolution”.
When I was in graduate school, I had a close American friend. He is a very excellent photographer and has been puring his passion in photography for decades. But he didn’t want to sell himself out to corporations. At that time he couldn’t even afford to buy a secondhand mac computer to do do his work (photo editing). (Nevertheless he is very generous in donating money to non-profit organizations.) I thought then that for him to sacrifice so much for pursuing his passion was already very counter-productive to what he wanted to do. Well, now I find myself in the same situation as he was, having to spend quite a lot of time on money-saving. I recently saw his works on facebook. Really awesome works!
For me, I just want to be able to completely focus on what I like to do and not to be bothered by the money issues. So I knew very little of things related to insurance, 401 and so on. I never want to waste time on them. Also I never want to waste time on paperwork. It is too distracting. I also don’t like to bother friends with anything. I felt pretty bad having done all these recently. The tedious process also wears you down and consumes all of your time. I hate to see so much time spent on unproductive work. For everything, you had better take it easy if you are not there yet.
A very important lesson I have had in my life is that I have to trust myself. If I trust others more than myself and my own experiences and reasoning, I will be doomed for a big setback. I had that lesson before. It made me feeling very bad and made me resolved not to repeat that kind of mistake anymore. After all, Dharma is my teacher. I will be responsible for my own life. For whatever I have received in my life, I am always very grateful and set aside my time to return the love and consider their needs when making decisions of my life, like I did for my parents. As in Chinese culture, parents like to make decisions for their children no matter how old their children are, we need to keep in mind that trusting oneself and being responsible for oneself is the foundation of happiness for one’s life. If it is some kind of experience that no where else I can get advices on and only people who have lived through it know it and it is impossible for me to try, for example the relation btw language and development of consciousness, I would appreciate if someone can offer their experiences on that.
Last updated: Feb 27th.