Learning in China
Learning from Children, Pure and Simple
by: Mavis Xu

A young girl conveys her dreams for the future in Jia County, China
In China, respect for teachers is a traditional virtue. A teacher is an elder and not someone to whom you can talk freely. The lines are clear: Teacher is teacher, student is student. As we approach the children, we are careful to become their friend and not their teacher. But, they still like to call us "teacher" anyway. We open with a few warm-up games to close the distance between the children and us, as adult facilitators of the consultation. We play some games from the local area. "Eagle Grabs Little chicken," "Diguaiguai," "Mouse steals oil,"* As we play the games I feel very happy; it takes me back to my own childhood.
After the warm-up games, the children follow us into the classroom and we begin our formal work: children's consultations. We squat down to talk to the children, so that we are the same height, and we can look each other squarely in the eye. We give the children white paper and colored pens, and they look so excited. We let them draw what they like most, what they dislike most, and the future of their dreams. Whether it is the process or the results of the consultation, the children always surprise us.

Children planning how to create a better community in Yalin Liugianhe Township
During the consultations, I notice some differences between boys & girls. Girls tend to use the paper and pens very carefully. They are generally very perceptive emotionally and more sensitive to problems in their family. Very often, what makes them sad is when their father gets drunk or when their parents quarrel. Boys' imaginations are usually rich, especially their future dreams. There is one boy named Xiao Lin whose dream for the future is to become a teacher. He dislikes it when his classmates drop out of school. He says that their parents are shortsighted and see little value in education. If he were a village leader, he would 'straighten out their thinking.' Another boy, about 14 years old, wants to become a high official in the future. Why? So he can summon wind and rain, exercising magical powers to punish corrupt and venal officials. I can't hide my smile, it's open from ear to ear. Without dreams, life would be withered and yellow.
Some of the children scratch their heads, bite their pens, with their eyes fixed on the sky, as they try to express themselves through drawing. It's pretty difficult for them; they are not used to free drawing with no fixed form for them to copy. We try to inspire them, tell them to think about what makes them feel happy, sad, or satisfied in their family, school and community. I try my best to use 'children's language' with them. But, to tell the truth, I'm not satisfied. The main problem is that my mentality is not the same as a child's way of thinking.

Mavis Zu facilitating children's consultations
Children have clear boundaries in their hearts: right is right, wrong is wrong. Their world is black and white. It's like their language, which has very few neutral words, unlike adults who often say: "so-so" "not too bad" and "fine." The children's eyes are pure and transparent. But when I look at my own eyes in the mirror, they are not so clear anymore. I wonder, is the price of growing up that we lose our clear eyes of childhood in exchange for muddy-eyes of adulthood?
In China, there is an old saying: "Return to original purity and simplicity." This is the Taoist religion's highest state. When I see the children's eyes, I think 'When can we, too, return to original purity and simplicity?' I hope we adults can be part of building an environment for children so that they will not have to change their pure and transparent way of seeing the world.
Mavis Xu reflects on her opportunities to facilitate children's consultations in three counties in China: Pu Cheng County, Jia County and Yu Lin county. Email Mavis Xu - planchn@pub.xaonline.com