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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-10-15

Today we had a full day on campus.  No exercise this morning: students slept in a bit after their long day of outings yesterday.  Classes began at 8:45 and after our family-style lunch each class of students gathered to create and practice skits that they will be performing at a senior center in Beijing on Thursday. These skits give your children an opportunity to practice their spoken Mandarin and to explore some cultural differences between Chinese and American humor. I’ll write more detail about these skits after our visit on Thursday.  Suffice it to say that many of your children are moving out of their comfort zones and taking a few risks in performing in Chinese.
We had a brief homework break after the skit practice and then gathered at 3:30 for a leadership workshop focusing on the leadership attribute of being “principled.”  Liao Laoshi and I tag-teamed in teaching and facilitating our discussion, and we were very impressed with the high level of student participation and engagement.  I’ll add here that it is both a challenge and an opportunity for me to teach such a mixed-age group of students. The older students challenge me with complex philosophical questions (such as Jonathon’s question, “Are you ‘principled’ if your ‘principles’ contradict one another?”) while the younger set of students forces me to more clearly define and describe my terms (“Are ‘principles’ the same as ‘morals’? ‘What are morals?’).  I began by leading a discussion on what makes for a “principled” person.  We generated a list that included such things as “doing the right thing,” “putting principles above other things,” and “thinking before you act.”  I then had students reflect in their journals for about ten minutes on a person they admire who is ‘principled’, describing this person and his or her principles and the affect being principles has on their lives.  We then made a list of these people and their principles (one of our examples was one of our own students, Benoit, who more than one student admired as being principled).  Once we generated these examples of principles, we generated another list of things that make it difficult to be principled. This list included such things as “laziness,” “greed,” “peer pressure,” “worry about what others want us to do,” “threats from other people,” “starvation or being really poor,”  “wanting to impress a boy or girl,” “wanting to be cool.”
We then took one of these challenges to being principled—peer pressure—and had small group discussions about real-situations when students have experienced peer pressure to break a rule or go against a principle.  We divided the students up in groups of five (mixed ages) and had them talk about times they have felt peer pressure to do something that went against their principles and strategies they used to deal with this situation.  Each group was asked to choose one good example from their group to share with the larger group.  The examples were fascinating and the discussion was very energetic.  Philip Li shared that his group chose an example of trick or treating with a group of friends and arriving at a house where someone had left a bowl of candy out with a note on it that said, “Please take one.” Immediately all the kids scrambled to empty the whole bowl, leaving the host without candy. Many students nodded their heads about this example. They’d seen it before, and Jack shared that he had been on the other end of this experience, when his babysitter left a bowl out and kids in the neighborhood took it all.  Your children were terrific at thinking through the various implication of that one act of taking all the candy for oneself: how others in the group of trick-or-treaters might be affected by this; how other children in the neighborhood may feel about it; how the host may feel; how their bodies may feel after eating all that candy.  They then came up with some creative and insightful alternatives to succumbing to the peer pressure and taking all the candy.  Besides the obvious (don’t take the candy), other possible choices included Jack suggesting he tell the kids how bad it feels to have your candy taken like that “because they probably haven’t thought of that before.” That may be enough to convince the friends.  Philip O. suggested that if you weren’t strong enough or felt unsafe standing up to the crowd there might be something reparative you could do, like return the candy you took or replace the candy with more candy.  Shannon suggested that even if you didn’t replace the candy, it might be a good thing to go back and tell the owners of the house what happened and apologize.  This Halloween example we puzzled over together was just one of several scenarios.  Another interesting discussion was launch with an  example of accepting an invitation to one party and then being invited to another party that you really want to go to: what principles would help you decide what is “right” to do in this situation?  You might ask your child what creative solutions students found for this dilemma and what your child thinks is the right thing to do.
Liao Laoshi then led a very interesting and inspiring discussion on expanding one’s circle of influence based on Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (there is a version of this published for teens).  Liao Laoshi introduced the notion there are two kinds of control—direct and indirect—which can be used to expand one’s circle of influence.  She asked for examples of people using their indirect influence to accomplish something.  Rebecca came up with the example of calling a teacher or the police to break up a fight.  Shannon brought up an example of something we experienced on this trip: a smoker in a restaurant who we wished would stop smoking, but we didn’t know how to get him to stop.  Philip O, William, Jack and Haoran gave some great ideas of how we might have expanded our influence to prevent smoking in that restaurant.  These included: going to the manager and reminding him of the law in China against smoking in indoor public spaces; making a direct appeal to the smoker himself to higher moral principles (the health of children); move tables; leave the restaurant.
Liao Laoshi then wrapped up with the important observation that all animals operate via both stimulus and reaction.  For most animals these are tightly connected (you poke a dog with something sharp and it bites you).  But again, drawing on Stephen Covey, as humans we have the ability to increase that distance between stimulus and reaction and think before we act, hopefully separating the response from the stimulus itself.  That is, we can be “response-able.”  We summed up this ability to be “response-able”—to think before we act—as being the basis of principled living, and a powerful attribute to develop as leaders.
We wrapped our day up with dinner and reflection.  The students had many appreciative things to say about their trip to the Great Wall and about the generosity they have observed in their peers.  We’re finding they are growing quieter now as they write and settling more easily into reflection, and we have many willing and eager to be the first to share.
We have another day on campus and then a field trip on Thursday.  It’s hard to believe we’re already into our last week in Beijing, before going to Huairou next week where we will be putting to practice many of the language and leadership skills we have been developing.
All the best from Beijing,
Colette (Mei Laoshi)


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