Curriculum >>

Curriculum >>

The Taihu School has many unique topics in its curriculum, but the one we most often get asked about is our means for teaching the Chinese classics. The following excerpt, from our principal’s book, The Taihu School, explains our approach:

The first teaching method we use is recitation. Every student needs to recite thirty-six specially selected books that have important contents from Chinese culture. We developed these books after carefully considering all sorts of source materials, and now due to our earlier charitable efforts they are used by over eight million children throughout China. Along the way we have received many wonderful stories from parents about the results that recitation has produced in helping children transform their behaviors from bad to good, but we cannot go into this here. Obviously, we cannot go into this here.

In our recitation classes, the children don’t need to understand what they are reciting, but must simply recite these thirty-six classics. At our school they recite 40 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes after lunch, and sometimes 30 minutes after dinner. I cannot go into all the details, which we sometimes discuss at seminars, but only wish to say that we have found tremendous results from having children recite these books.

Second, we also teach all the government requirements for literature classes at our school. The government has standards for what it also wants children to learn about the classics and about Chinese literature and history, and so of course we always make sure the children learn all this as well.

Third, we teach the explanations of the classics, which is separate from just having children recite them. This is where we once again differ from the curriculum in most Chinese schools. We believe in teaching children how to interpret the classics on their own so that they can always do this for any ancient book, rather than just provide them with a data dump of the meaning of the classics. We are not trying to overwhelm them with knowledge but give them an operating system that enables them to unravel the meaning of the classics on their own. Hence, while we explain the classics to them, we also progressively teach them how to interpret the classics on their own because this is a skill we want them to develop and be able to use throughout their lives.

In terms of “explaining the classics,” we also try to provide the students with a perspective that enables them to see how to match this wisdom with their regular life, and this is what we focus on explaining. In particular, we want the children to be able to develop their own ideas on the deeper meaning of Chinese culture and start to use it. We want to wean them away from depending on other people’s interpretations of the classics and want them to think about how to incorporate these lessons into their own lives. To do this we train them using a special sequential process we developed that slowly enables them to be able to interpret the meaning of any Chinese classical text they may come upon.

For instance, based on Nan Huai-chin’s suggestions, our 1st and 2nd graders are taught the Chian Tzu Wen (Thousand Character Classic). The 3rd and 4th graders are taught the You Xue Cong Ling (Encyclopedia of Chinese Classics), which is like an encyclopedia of Chinese culture. The 5th and 6th graders are taught the Gu Wen Guan Zhi (Collection of Classical Essays), which contain history and stories.

Through this progression of books and our other materials, the children slowly develop the skill of being able to interpret ancient classical texts on their own. Of course we also explain the meaning of the classics to the children, but we want the children to develop their own opinions. If the children do not learn how to read and interpret classics on their own, then we will slowly lose the ability to retrieve Chinese culture. Furthermore, we place a special emphasis on teaching the children how to match the topics within the classics with their way of doing things. We want to teach them how to apply the means of personal thinking and cultivation revealed within the classics to their regular life, otherwise all the study and familiarization merely amounts to useless bookwork. This pragmatic emphasis on “living the classics” is another way in which we differ from the way the classics are typically taught in most Chinese schools.

If you want to understand the classics you can simply use a dictionary to look up all the words and then you will know the meaning of the text. However, because we feel that Chinese culture is a way of life, we emphasize how the life-wisdom of our ancestors has been codified in this literature and the fact that it is our task in life to retrieve that wisdom through understanding and make it part of the way we actually do things. We try to bring the meanings of any text into the real world by explaining how its message should alter our behavior.

This is how we try to transmit Chinese culture to the new generation, fulfilling our grand teacher’s hope that the greatness of Chinese culture is not lost over time, and thus give children a foundation not ordinarily established by the present Chinese school system that in turn they will one day be able to pass onto their own children as well, strengthening the country through the process over time. We firmly believe that this foundation will help them to live better lives and to make better decisions in the world regardless of their ultimate positions in society. Furthermore, we are absolutely convinced that this route will help produce an even greater China as many countries have been destroyed when they lost sight of their history and original cultural values.