How 800,000 Students Have Learned to Share
The Bliss and Wisdom Educational Foundation has taken the pressure off teachers for the past 12 years by feeding them innovative life education strategies.
How 800,000 Students Have Learned to ShareBy Fuyuan Hsiao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 435 )
In the past many Taiwanese teachers described their profession with the phrase "two negatives, three waits." The two negatives were helpless teachers and bored students, and the three "waits" referred to waiting to get off work, waiting to go on vacation and waiting to collect a paycheck. Sitting in the Bliss and Wisdom Educational Foundation's small office on Taipei's Nanjing East Road, the benevolent-looking Huang Chu Chai can't help laughing at that depiction of her former profession.
Huang has served as a volunteer at the foundation since retiring from teaching more than 10 years ago. Her mission is to change teachers' negative feelings of resignation and helplessness toward their profession and help them rekindle their confidence and enthusiasm for the job.
Twelve years ago, Buddhist Master Shin Jih-chang founded the Bliss and Wisdom Educational Foundation and began to systematically promote life education in Taiwan's schools. Master Shin Jih-chang believed that education is the key determinant in whether individuals sink or swim, and that only through life education could their quality of life improve. He founded a teachers' camp for life enrichment and developed a variety of training courses to cultivate teachers who would quietly spread the seeds of life education on Taiwanese campuses.
Starting with those who in key positions of influence – the teachers – has been Bliss and Wisdom's most effective strategy. Of the 200,000 fulltime teachers in Taiwan's elementary, junior high and high schools, more than 6,000 have attended the foundation's life enrichment courses. That is, of every 100 teachers in Taiwan's schools, three are planting Bliss and Wisdom's seeds of life.
Bliss and Wisdom-trained teachers develop their own teaching materials and methods, first perfecting them in their own classes and then gradually disseminating them to particular grades, schools, and communities and between schools. Teachers initially stress life concepts – starting with themselves as examples – and then through caring and guidance inspire their peers and students.
"The key to success is to make them feel that this is something they need and something that can help them," explains Huang, who has nurtured many life education teachers.
All teachers cultivated by Bliss and Wisdom receive specialized training and must chronicle their growth by filling out a log. Aside from participating in a nationwide teachers' life enrichment camp every year for five days, they attend classes on a weekly basis. The 33 courses offered, from beginning to advanced levels, provide a complete training regimen. According to Huang, cultivating one teacher usually takes many years.
From Antagonism to Mutual Understanding
In developing its approach to life education, Bliss and Wisdom stresses different points for different age groups.
At the elementary school level, the focus is on getting students to tidy up their surroundings and learn manners, and instilling filial piety, fraternal duty, and respect for teachers. Children are taught how to properly clean their desks and sweep the floor, and they bow at a 90-degree angle to greet their teachers. "If the students cannot properly keep their surroundings clean and show good manners, they will not be able to lead the country or help the world," Huang says.
Also, Bliss and Wisdom puts special emphasis on having elementary students recite passages from the Standards for Students (compiled from teachings of ancient sages) and the Chinese classics to cultivate their ability to concentrate.
With junior high school students, who are beginning to observe and think at a sophisticated level, Bliss and Wisdom teachers slowly teach the relationship between cause and effect and how to deal with evolving situations to help students take responsibility for their actions. As for high school students, the emphasis is on strengthening their ability to choose the direction of their lives. They are required to read biographies of great historical figures and ponder how they can excel in their own lives and reach for the heights in taking responsibility for themselves, society, their country and the world.
For university students, life enrichment camps emphasize aspiring to a higher level of life, and encourage students to build up the resolve to change lives and the world.
Since it was launched in 1997, nearly 800,000 students at all levels, from elementary and secondary to college, have participated in Bliss and Wisdom's life education program.
Tseng Fu-mei, a Chinese language teacher at Kaohsiung Municipal Cianjhen Senior High School, is one of the many who have benefited from Bliss and Wisdom's life education program. In Tseng's days as a junior high school teacher, before she received training from the foundation, students would curse her in the classroom and flip over their desks in anger, and she would be at a complete loss on how to deal with the situation. During that period, she experienced nightmares every night and came to hate her profession. She changed schools five times in nine years.
Then a colleague introduced her to Bliss and Wisdom's life enrichment camp for teachers and courses on spiritual growth, and she became a different person. Previously somebody who only saw students' flaws and was never satisfied no matter how well they performed, Tseng now voluntarily and publicly praises students for their strengths, and her once adversarial relationship with her students is now based on mutual understanding.
Becoming a Potter
Seven years ago, Tseng designed a journal for her class that she filled with clippings of inspirational stories on a weekly basis to share with her students. She would also show movies and have the students write an essay describing their reaction to share with their parents.
Tseng knew that to get parents to accept these "extra assignments" that were unrelated to all-important proficiency exams, she could not scale back her students' regular coursework. She taught her life education class once every two weeks during class meeting periods using the "Observe Merit, Appreciate Kindness" method (learning to appreciate the virtues and kindness of others), a mainstay concept at Bliss and Wisdom. One year for Mothers' Day, Tseng had her students learn to appreciate the suffering of a pregnant woman by strapping a book bag weighing 3 kilograms to their stomachs. Even before one class period had ended, some students were already complaining about sore backs and the inconvenience of doing certain things, helping them "finally understand a mother's hardship."
She first developed her life education course in her own classroom and then slowly persuaded other teachers at her school to incorporate it into their classes. Today, already half of the high school's teachers are offering life education. Tseng has been cited as a model teacher and last year received the National Teacher Award from the Taiwan Provincial Education Association.
Aside from fulfilling her ideals in the classroom, Tseng still attends class at Bliss and Wisdom every weekend, as she has done without fail for more than 10 years.
"I'm happy at work every day. Teachers have to turn themselves into potters. We have to stay conscious of the need for continuing growth. In addition to helping students, this is my life's endeavor."
Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier
Chinese Version: 八十萬學生 學會念恩與分享