This entry shares the story of our son Micah’s experience with, the horse that took us to see the beautiful near , on our summer vacation. This simple event illustrates how the social conscience of younger children can be developed through everyday experiences.
My teaching of social conscience, as reflected in this blog, is almost entirely with high school students. In a follow-up to my last post on “Teaching for Transformation: Pedagogy for the Privileged,” however, one commenter raised the question how should parents/teachers teach social conscience to younger children.* Specifically, what subject matter is appropriate for younger children? In this entry I’d like to address this question anecdotally with an experience that our ten-year old Micah had on a recent vacation in China.
Micah’s Experience with Apple
My family and I enjoyed a short holiday this summer at the highly recommended Linden Centre thirty kilometers north of Dali, a well-known city among travelers in central . On our second full day, Micah expressed interest in seeing how trained birds called cormorants helped the local Bai minority people catch fish in Er Hai Lake. The arranged for a horse cart to transport us in mid-afternoon from the hotel to the lake. From the first minutes that the four of us, our guide, and the driver got into the cart, Micah as well as the family was concerned about Apple, the horse pulling us. How tiring it must be to carry all of us! We became even more concerned when we discovered from the driver that Apple hadn’t eaten the whole day.
Following the fishing experience, we then took a very pleasant hour-long ride along Er Hai Lake, visiting a Tibetan-style temple, and then returning to the hotel. The entire 3-hour trip was delightful, but Micah was very concerned about Apple. As soon as we got out of the cart, Micah said that he wanted to find something for Apple to eat. We went up to our rooms where Micah grabbed an apple that my wife had bought in the market. “Let’s give an apple to Apple,” he explained. But when we returned to the main road, Apple was gone. “I’m heart-broken,” Micah announced simply with a furrowed brow, as we starting considering our next activity. “You know I’m the year of the horse, Dad,” he said earnestly.
I nodded. “Well, do you want to ride bikes?” which I knew was his favorite activity at the center. “Sure,” he said, “maybe we can find Apple.” After a half-hour ride around the village with no sign of Apple and about to head to dinner, Micah, looking down a small alley near the hotel, said, “There’s the driver!” “Mister,” I shouted in , as we rode towards him. Not far behind the driver was Apple, chewing energetically on some grass and weeds. “Can we give him an apple?” Micah asked the driver in Chinese. “Yes, thank you,” he said with a wide smile. He broke Micah’s fruit in half, and gave it to Apple, who chomped it hungrily before returning to the grass.
The next day we were about to return from the main town square to the Linden Centre when up pulled the driver and Apple, towing an unimaginable number of people. A mass of local Chinese tourists with their children disembarked from the cart. Micah and the family were horrified. We walked over to driver and asked how many people he was transporting. “Eight adults and nine children,” the driver replied. “That’s animal abuse,” said my wife. Micah became even more distraught than yesterday.
As Apple sniffed the stone pavement for anything edible, Micah asked, “What can we do?” My wife promptly set off for the market to buy some fruits, as we petted and commiserated with Apple and talked to the driver. We found out that the tourists were supposed to have two, but a second cart didn’t show up or wasn’t available, so the whole group piled onto his cart.
Waiting for Mom to return was difficult for Micah. “Dad, I just want to go back to the hotel and forget about all this.” But of course we returned to comforting Apple. A few minutes later my wife returned, and Micah gave five apples in a row to Apple, who vacuumed them up with enthusiasm.
As we returned to the hotel, Micah wanted to talk about what he could do to help. “How do you raise money on the Internet, Dad?” We talked about different options, and I explained that the best thing to do is to start with friends and family. He also said that he wanted to start a blog like this one where he could share his experiences with people. We have talked about this possibility over the last year and a half, but perhaps this disturbing incident will cause him to publish his ideas online. We returned to the hotel with a lot to think about.
Micah’s Response and Ours
This simple story of Micah’s experience with Apple illustrates the same basic steps towards social conscience that I have found in my teaching. Viewed from this perspective, Micah’s encounter led him through the steps of awareness, emotional engagement, and action in quick succession. At the end of our ride on the first day, his emotionally- sensitized awareness of Apple’s condition led him to the action step of finding Apple and feeding him. The next day, not only did we feed Apple, but Micah also discussed the possibility of taking further action, considering in nascent form some type of awareness and money-making campaign. In keeping with the model, at each stage there was a growing sense of relatedness between Micah and Apple.
What was most important about our reaction as a family was that we also participated in the same three steps with him. We discussed whether we thought this was an issue of abuse (awareness), we talked about Apple’s feelings and our own affective responses to the events (emotional engagement), and then we collectively took steps (action) to alleviate Apple’s hunger. Micah and I even discussed a longer-term solution. What was most significant for myself as a parent was picking up on Micah’s repeated statement, “I’m heart-broken,” something I don’t remember him saying about any other issue before. His strong emotional reaction rang the bell for me that this was a “teachable moment.” Most importantly, I believe that he perceived that his spontaneous open-hearted concern for Apple was not only affirmed by his family, but a cause that we all acted upon as well.
I predict that Micah’s response to Apple’s distress will remain an important issue for him. Our family now has this story as a shared experience, and we all supported Micah’s strong instinct to care for Apple. In the midst of happy recollections on a family vacation will be an event that is likely to remain in Micah’s memory for many years, especially since I documented the days’ events with pictures. I also hope that Micah will write a blog about his experience. This along with other actions steps will be key elements in using this experience to support his social conscience growth.
In response to Sarah’s question about how to teach young children, my simple response is to look for everyday events that provide the opportunity to combine awareness, emotional engagement and action steps in a natural way. My own families’ experience with Micah as well as Christa, who has just finished high school, is that the implicit values of such shared memories, if repeated, will eventually become imbedded in a family’s culture. These values will in time build children’s social conscience.
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* Sarah’s comment: “Has anyone at HKIS developed a service-learning/social conscience education to introduce to the younger grade levels? I am struggling with how to introduce our girls to this at the elementary level so it becomes a seamless and regular part of our lives as they grow. Andy and I both experienced it at the high school level with HKIS but would like to start sooner with our own family. I would love to hear any thoughts you have.”
Pictures of Our Trip
Our family had a great four nights at the Linden Centre, and highly recommend that others visit Xizhou Town where it is located and enjoy the many activities provided.
You may also enjoy these articles/blog entries about Dali:
1. The Linden Centre was featured in a recent NY Times article.
4. The International New York Times article on how urbanites are escaping China’s eastern cities for Dali.
Here are some pictures from our trip:
Spending a vacation at the Linden Centre is like living in a museum. The Centre is a beautifully preserved mansion built by a Bai minority trader in 1947. Only living in his home for a year, the Liberation Army took over the site in 1948. The Centre served as a PLA barracks for many years before Brian and Jeannea Linden of the US took on the task of restoring the home, which was opened as a hotel in 2008.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the Dali experience for us was the food. For those of us always concerned about food safety, hygiene, and pollution in China, we found the water and food to be of a high standard. The eggplant and chillies that we purchased in the local market were both nutritious and delicious.
One of the best parts of the trip was that the Linden Centre offered a range of activities enjoyable for the whole family, such as the cormomant fishing trip (above) and a chance to learn about the tea process at a local plantation in the nearby hills.
An active local Tibetan-style temple located next to Er Hai Lake.
Enjoying a healthy, delicious, no MSG family meal on the Linden Centre’s veranda. All the food was grown locally and purchased by the kitchen staff in the morning. They also obliged our request to put as little oil in the dishes as possible. The tastiest dish was the eggplant with red chillies.View from the Linden Centre garden through the ricefields to the local homes of the Bai minority people.
- Throwback Thursday: Dali, China (July 2010) (lavieenchina.wordpress.com)