We know that physiologically 14 year olds are just starting to wake up to their ability to exercise introspection. Students begin to view themselves and other self-reflexively, as they now are able to consider the inner psychological reality and group sociological behavior of any situation. We place this emerging cognitive ability at the center of our pedagogical approach to Humanities I in Action where contemporary events are seen through psychological and sociological lenses, which then serve as evidence that they gather to make sense of the world, which we call a worldview, a working life philosophy.
Our first out-of-the-classroom activity in this course is deceptively simple. Students participate in a government-sanctioned method for fundraising called selling flags. Students carry a flag bag with them onto Hong Kong streets and solicit donations for a Hong Kong charity organization. A pair of hard-working students can raise $50 USD ($400 HK) in less than two hours. Multiple this by 50 pairs and our classes can make a significant donation to a Hong Kong charity with a small investment of time that, at the same time, serves our class purposes.
What do students gain from such a simple and generally upbeat experience? In order to find out, I asked students to respond to the following questions for the next class period:
“Write a response to your flag day experience. In this unit we look at every event has having two aspects, a psychological (inside of you) and sociological (group behavior) dimension:
1) PSYCHOLOGICAL/INTERIOR: So, how did you FEEL doing the flag day? (psychological or interior). What were the highs and lows? What did you learn about yourself?
2) SOCIOLOGICAL/EXTERIOR: How did you REACT to others or how did they REACT to you? (sociological or exterior). Do you have an opinion about the question whether rich or poor, Asian or Westerners, Canto or Mandarin speakers are more generous? We’ll talk specifically about the rich and poor question on Monday.
3) What was your most memorable moment on flag day?”
Student Reflections on Their Flag Day Experience
What did my students actually gain from this experience? To my surprise when I first started doing flag days, it became clear that this outing was actually a pretty big deal for young high schoolers to go into “adult” Hong Kong territory and ask strangers for donations, as their comments make clear.
Below you will find not only individual student reflections on their experiences, but also a bit of “meta-analysis” in which students read over their peers’ comments and wrote a summary response, which I have noted here as “student analysis.” (A few groups struggled with this, so I wrote the analysis, which I noted as “my analysis.”) I also provided my own commentary at the end of each theme. Here are the psychological themes and sociological observations that emerged from their responses.
Theme 1: Students felt good helping other people.
Student Analysis: Students were generally tired and in a bad mood in the beginning, but were motivated and happy later on when people start donating. Many people said that they felt great about themselves because they were helping the local community and making a difference.
Taira: I had a good feeling when I was asking for donations because many people seemed so willing to donate money. A high from the outing was one western lady that actually stopped to talk to us.
Stephen: Overall, Flag Day was a great experience. I felt like I was doing the right thing and I was doing it for a good cause. It felt nice knowing that what I was doing would help others. Once in awhile, I would get bored but the thought of helping people in need motivated me.
Marisa: When we first started flag day I was very crabby and tired. I thought I wouldn’t have any fun, but I was wrong. Sienna and I decided to walk around the entrance of the Pacific Place shopping mall in hopes that people shopping would have money to donate. Once we stood outside for a while and got a lot of donations I began to feel happy because I was doing something nice for the charity. We tried really hard to get money. The more we got, the happier I was because we were going to make a big contribution. The two hours went by very fast. I learned that I like to raise money for charity.
Annika: I felt very happy that I could help people out because seeing all the people who just walked straight past or who made up excuses made me realise that these people who need help usually just get overlooked, so it felt good that I was doing something for them…. The most memorable moment was when this older women came to us and told us that she was very proud to see that us kids are taking the time to help people out and being to responsible and kind, that really made me day so I would definitely want to do this again.
Henrietta: Usually when we just donate money to help charities/ foundations, we don’t really feel like we are helping other people since we cannot see where our money is going. We couldn’t see where the money was going even when selling flags, but knowing that we are doing something to help also gave the “satisfaction.”
Sienna: On my way to Admiralty station, I felt tired and sleepy because it was quite early in the morning. Stopping strangers on the street was uncomfortable at first. But once Marisa and I started to earn more and more money, it felt very purposeful because we knew the money we fundraise is going to a good cause. Although walking around the Hong Kong heat and humidity isn’t an ideal Saturday morning, I felt refreshed. Not only are we being taught about all the flaws of Hong Kong and the rest of the in class, but we are taking action to fix that— even if it is a small step. Overall I think that there is no point learning about all the unfortunate events of the world if you aren’t going to take action to change that.
Clara: I felt good throughout the entire time we were collecting the money because I knew it was all going to a good cause and it made me happy to know that many other people were eager to contribute to this cause…. When we told [a man] that we were students from HKIS and that we were helping out the organisation by collecting money, after donating he left by saying, “It’s good that you kids are working. Good work.” This made me smile because I could see that he cared about the elderly and he seemed glad to see that younger generations were proactively working to help others in need.
Ayaan: I felt super happy that people were making donations and that I was actually helping out people who are in need. I making a difference. I felt really excited to go to many people to collect donations. I really like the concept of flag day and hope to continue to do this outside of school…. I learned that I really like the feeling when I help people out and want to do it again.
Laura: I felt like I was doing a mission of some sort, to find the right kind of people who’d want to donate, and when they did, I’d feel great about myself because I just helped Action Care International by raising more money.
My reflection: The clear message here is that students enjoy helping others. Our educational system is all about the utilitarian need to achieve, so when students are asked to temporarily put aside their own goals for the sake of others, they are genuinely surprised that service can be a rewarding, feel good experience.
Theme 2: Students gained confidence through asking for donations.
Student Analysis: For many students, this is a rare experience, and many of us were not very confident in approaching strangers on the street asking for money, which would seem to go against our intuition. A common theme in all these reflections was that students felt more at ease and a sense of accomplishment after successfully receiving money from a few people, which boosted their confidence in the whole activity.
Jack: In the beginning, I was really shy, and backed out of asking the first person at the last second. It felt really weird to be asking random strangers for money. After about five minutes, I was fully comfortable with going up to people and asking them for money. The low was those first five minutes where I was too shy to approach people, and one high was when this lady actually talked to us about the charity, and the heat which felt really cool for some reason. The other high was when me and Taira got about nine people in four minutes. I learned that I can fairly easily adapt to a given situation if I really want to.
Taira: I learned that I am super observant when we were asking for donations. By the end of the time, I kind of developed a way to see if the people would donate, and I went to the who I thought would donate. I also took notice of the age they looked like, race, and gender.
Annika: As soon as we started I was so nervous to go up to people and ask for donations, but after about 4 people we had finally gotten our first yes and a very kind man gave us $20 and asked more about where the donations were going. So after that man we had become more confident and we were going around and asking everybody who passed us and we ended up making around $350.
Anonymous: There were also times where we felt very accomplished after receiving lots of money and being congratulated by our presentation of Action Care. I learned that I was actually capable of raising that much money, but all I needed to do was go out and do it.
Blythe: However, it took me by surprise when almost all of the people we talked to at our first stop decided to donate. This gave me a sense of accomplishment, which allowed me to shed the initial awkwardness of asking strangers for donations.
Clara: I’m usually a shy person around others when it comes to asking for money or walking up to strangers on the street. But as the day went on Annika and I started feeling more at ease and it got easier to go up to people and talk to them about our cause and why we were collecting money.
My reflection: Self-efficacy was one of the main themes of my research on social conscience education. Becoming an adult means being able to impact one’s social world. With practice and moments of success, many students gained a sense confidence in their own self-efficacy, which is a hugely important aspect of developing social conscience in young people.
Theme 3: Students experienced disappointment and even anger when they were ignored or rejected by people.
My analysis: While asking for donations seems like a small issue for adults, it’s a challenging, emotion-laden experience for 14 year olds. These comments show how much they are “putting on the line” by participating in a flag day outing.
Daniel: Most of the time on flag day, I felt pretty dejected. As we walked around, asking almost every person that came up to us, 95% of the people that we asked declined. Most of them didn’t even look at us, just pushed straight ahead. This feeling was even greater when there was a large string of people that didn’t even pay attention to us, which happened a few times throughout the course of the day. However, as a contrast to these moments, whenever someone finally donated anything to us after a long streak of people not donating, I felt really happy, even if the donation was just one coin. I think that, because of these experiences, I’ve learned that I really need to get approval for the things that I’m doing. If I think about this concept, I realize that it’s present in a lot of other things that I do as well.
Henrietta: The bad part of selling flags was that some people were not as nice as others on the street. Many people were very willing to donate and some even went to thank us for our work, however, not everyone wanted to give money, and sometimes we were ignored, and some people also avoided us on the streets. It wasnot possible for the day to go entirely smoothly, but it is understandable that not everybody is willing or can donate money, do I am glad that many people wanted to donate to the organisation.
Josh: Before the day began, I felt good about flag day. I was excited about meeting my friends and teachers, and I thought that a lot of people were going to be willing to give us money for our cause. When I realised that we were selling stickers, my expectations for raising money went down. I actually felt discouraged and I tried to think of reasons why people would want stickers. I thought we were going to sell something like baked goods or something with a higher value. I felt a sense of doubt about flag day and feared of not collecting any money. My worst fear came true at first, and no one was willing to donate money or their time to hear why we were there. It was a bit nerve racking since it was uncomfortable approaching busy strangers and asking them for money. Not being able to speak Cantonese and Mandarin was also an obstacle because a lot of people said they didn’t understand. Most of the people that we met ignored us, gave us weird looks, and some people even pretended that we were invisible…. I decided to change my outlook, “This isn’t so hard, “ until we got back to the harsh reality of people giving us dirty looks and looking away. I didn’t understand people’s reactions because we were sacrificing our weekend to help the elderly. It hurt me a lot when a group of guys was walking by looking all happy and joyful, until they saw us and all of their faces just died like we were the plague.
Just before I was about to lose hope, it seemed like a miracle when someone actually offered to donate their money. The amount of five Hong Kong dollars felt like a million dollars. It was the best feeling in the world. I felt a sense of relief, like the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders because we got at least one dollar for the day. I got support from this person and I was so grateful to people who donated.
Jason: Even just going up to people felt awkward, and it felt even worsewhen they ignored or turned you down. The highs were when you went up to someone, and the actually gave you money, but the lows were when they ignored or said they had no money. I learned that I am really shy to people I don’t know well.
Laura: When people refused to donate or just ignored me, that made me feel slightly embarrassed and flustered, nobody likes to be refused. The biggest thing I learned about myself that day was how hard it is for me to approach people, especially strangers. In the beginning, it was mostly my friends that reached out to pedestrians while I barely spoke. I’ve realised now that I’m not the best at making new connections or just reaching out to people…. The most memorable moment that happened was when my group reached out to a European couple who were wearing pretty nice clothes. They refused, saying that they didn’t have enough money. Later on, I spotted them somewhere else, holding two sodas in their hands. In that moment, I felt really angry. They didn’t have to donate, but they shouldn’t have lied. It’s not like I was begging for their money. Yet thinking about this now, perhaps it was also due to their worldview.
Maybe refusing to donate was considered being rude and selfish, and needs to be masked with excuses like not having enough money or didn’t bring any. But it was slightly disrespectful of them to not be honest and it made me feel like idiot.
My reflection: What I found in my research is that growth in social conscience initially involves what are considered “negative emotions.” In this case, disappointment and anger cause an emotional disequilibrium that students need to deal with through the course of the morning. Such feelings are often a wake-up call for students that they then seek to resolve, trying to understand why, for example, the public isn’t more sympathetic to these causes.
Theme 4: Young children were the most generous and inspired the most generosity.
Student Analysis: Small children seemed most willing to donate money to us, and they liked to put the money in the bag. The kids always seemed to be happy to put money in the bag, and their parents usually gave them a few coins to put it in. This makes us think that kids are more generous to adults because they always wanted to give money. I think that children really want to help, and they don’t usually have an opportunity to do something. From experience, kids are more compassionate than adults, and they just want to help people out.
Taira: The most memorable moment was probably when Jack and I saw a small child beg for his parents to donate money to us. We were just asking for donations, and a boy and his parents that were walking by spotted us. The boy went to his parents and asked for money, and they gave him a few coins to donate.
Henrietta: I had several memorable moments, but the most memorable was when the parents I saw a lot of parents involving their kids in this because the kids enjoyed putting the money in, and even some small actions like this can have an influence on a kid’s perspective on helping others in the future, so asking families were very memorable moments.
Blythe: Most of the parents walking with their children wanted to create a good example and teach their children, encouraging them to put the money in the bag…. Another memorable moment was letting the kids put money into the bag themselves, as they always seemed to enjoy it and did not hesitate to put the money in even without the parents’ encouragement. I hoped that having the kids put money in the bag themselves would help them associate donating as a good and enjoyable experience, inspiring them to participate in service too or continue to buy flags even when they are older.
My reflection: While 9th graders usually see themselves as less experienced and mature than other older high school students, oftentimes it is experiences with younger children that make the biggest impact upon them in this course. This happened for a number of students during this flag day as they saw the innocence and generosity of young children. I believe it causes my 9th graders to consider what they may have lost in the process of growing up, causing them to wonder whether our essential nature is more altruistic than they often assume.
Theme 5: Self-Reflections about Their Own Attitudes Towards Charity.
Student Analysis: Students began to consider their own attitude to charity, and what they would do if someone approached them to make a donation. In this situation, the student realized that they would’ve refused to donate and maybe even ignore service workers. This made the student frustrated with themselves and learned a lesson on his outlook at charity organizations.
Andrew: While my partner and I (Steven) were collecting money, I started to realize that if someone approached me asking for a donation, I would have said no. This made me a little annoyed at myself for an hour or two while doing the activity because as horrible as it sounds, I would not support the very project I was doing. I learned that I should give charitable organizations a chance, instead of walking past them, ignoring them.
My reflection: Only one student commented on this theme this year, but I included it because these sentiments have been expressed by a good number of students over the years. This kind of introspection shakes their own self-understanding, which is an important pre-cursor to social conscience growth as they seek to make sense of their own worldview beliefs.
Theme 6: Poor people tended to be more generous than rich people.
Student Analysis: In these reflections, we all agreed that the ‘poorer’ people usually donated more money. We think this is because poorer people realize what it’s like to live in harsher conditions and they can relate to the issues more than the ‘richer’ people or Westerners.
Henrietta: Also, just from observing a person’s look, it appeared that “poorer” people were more likely to put money in, and even though not many “richer” people donated money.
Andrew: I also noticed that none of the people wearing nice/fancy clothes payed any money at all. In fact, they were quite rude, completely ignoring us. Most of the people who donated money were people wearing more humble clothes. A taxi driver even pulled up to the sidewalk and took out some money, even though we didn’t even ask.
Jason: I feel like the poor and the Canto/Mandarin speakers are more likely to give, but they give less.
Blythe: When we approached a group of labour workers who would normally be considered less civilised than workers in office buildings in society, we did not anticipate that almost of the workers in those groups would donate to us. Surprisingly, they reacted to us very kindly in their own way, one worker even nudging his co worker to donate as well. All of the people we approach were generally middle class, but the lower middle class workers (such as the labour workers) seemed to appreciate the service more than the upper middle class ones. Perhaps they felt more connected to the issues than the people with more money. In addition, office workers in the upper middle class were constantly in a rush and extremely busy, while the labour workers seemed more relaxed and were making conversation with their coworkers. However, while the majority of the labour workers donated, the smaller amount of office workers donated more per average donation.
Jason: [The most inspiring moment for me was] when an old lady who was struggling in her life economically went up to us and put in money. She was willing to sacrifice her income (probably minimum wage) to help others.
Sienna: Surprisingly, more often than not, people who wear carry designer apparel tend to donate less than people who don’t wear all designer clothes. Or example, we asked a woman who was carrying a Chanel bag and wearing Dior shoes if she was willing to donate. She donated 50 cents. On the contrary, people who dress more “commonly” gave up to 40 dollars. This surely shocked me because you would think people who can afford 20,000 dollar bags can spare at least 10 dollars for a charity that aims to help the locals.
Clara: The response we got from the donors was surprising and not what I would have anticipated. At first, Annika and I didn’t approach everyone we saw; we would more often go to businessmen in suits or Westerners because we thought that they would be more willing to donate than the local Hong Kongers who can be known for being rude or irritable. We were able to get some donations out of businessmen and Westerners, they would usually give around 20 dollars, except for one woman who gave us a fifty dollar note. Then, Annika and I went onto one of the bridges which crossed the highway and we would stop everyone we saw in our paths. I think I could accurately say that maybe around 70 to 75% of the people we stopped contributed in some way. One man we approached was a tourist and had only Chinese Yuan on him, so we told him it was not necessary to donate and he could just take a sticker to help spread awareness, but he insisted on giving us money although it was not HKD. i think that when it comes to whether who is typically the most generous, I would say that the ones who contributed the most were the most unexpected. I found that it was usually the less well dressed and the local Hong Kongers who donated more whereas Annika and I found out at the end that the Westerners were the harder ones to approach and to give us money.
Ayaan: I’m not trying to be offensive but in my opinion I found that middle class and poorer people tended to listen more and give money whereas the richer people were more ignorant and made faces and said I’m busy in a mad way.
Laura: To my surprise, the rich people, the ones carrying shopping bags and wearing nice clothing, either didn’t donate or gave us small change, while the people who look like they possess less money, gave us 50 or 20 dollar bills.
My reflection: This has been the consistent response of students throughout the years that working class (and perhaps the middle class also) in Hong Kong are more generous than the wealthy. I’m not going to speculate on the reason for this, but it is an important worldview consideration for my affluent students to ponder.
Theme 7: Local Chinese gave more money than Westerners or mainland Chinese.
Analysis: Local Hong Kong people seem to accept and support the flag day concept far more than Westerners or mainland Chinese. This has also been a consistent theme through the years that we have done flag days.
Henrietta: I noticed that only one Westerner donated money even though we asked a little under ten Westerners, which was also around the result that we got from Mandarin speakers. We encountered a lot of Cantonese speakers, and most of them were very generous.
Blythe: Lastly, we discovered that Cantonese speakers were more willing to donate than Mandarin speakers. This was mainly due to a language barrier where we would approach them speaking Cantonese, though most of them didn’t really attempt to understand. Most of them backed away in a somewhat nervous way without asking us to approach them again speaking Mandarin. Again, this may be because they felt that they did not truly belong in Hong Kong as well.
Jason: Canto people were more generous than the [mainland] Chinese.
My reflection: Again, as expatriate students, most of whom come from Western countries or, in recent years, now from mainland China, it is valuable for them to see that there appears to be a divide between wealthy non-locals and local Hongkongers.
Theme 8: Asians tended to be more generous than Westerners.
Student Analysis: Most of the Westerners are expats, so they do not consider Hong Kong to be their home. Therefore, they are more reluctant to support causes in this foreign, uncomfortable environment, and are far less likely to give money to strangers. Additionally, there was a far smaller sample size of Westerners which meant that many of the Westerners we encountered could have been the ones that are unwilling to donate. Finally, as noted in point 6 above, poor people tend to be more likely to donate. Since these Westerners are expats, most of them have a lot more money than the average citizen in Hong Kong.
Annika: Also going into this I think a lot of us imagined that it would be more of the westerners who would be willing to donate, but we ended up finding out that it was the Asians. We found this out by going up to a group of westerns with 10 people in it and asking all around but none of them wanted to donate and then we went to a group of asians with like 4 people in it and asked them to donate and they showed genuine interest and gave us 50$.
Josh: Asian women gave the most money and were the most generous to us. All the westerners we encountered completely ignored us even though they spoke English.
Andrew: We also noticed that none of the Westerners paid any attention to us. We also asked every other group, and they said that every Westerner they approached also ignored them. I am not sure why.
Blythe: Surprisingly, only one out of all of the Westerners we approached donated to us. Whilst they were generally polite in turning us down, it confused me as to why they weren’t willing to donate. Henrietta and I decided that because they might not feel like they truly belong in Hong Kong, they felt that the service here didn’t really concern them.
Sienna: Overall, I think that we obtained most money from Asians who dressed more modestly.
Laura: Most of them were Asians as well, in fact, out of every westerner we’ve asked, I think only one man donated money. But I don’t think that the Westerners are selfish or anything, maybe some of them are tourists, or they’re just more self conscious with service and will donate if they knew our charity organization better.
My reflection: Again, this comes as a surprise to my students, since their general perception is that Westerners are pro-charity in comparison to more “traditional” Asians. This opens students to rethinking their worldview assumptions.
In my social conscience research on my students, it was real-life experiences far more than any classroom study that opened them to their role in society. While it is the overseas trips, such as the China orphanage experience in this class, that have the greatest impact, it is easy to see in these comments the power of experiential learning. In a short window of time, students have rich psychological reflections about their own inner world as well as perceptive sociological observations of Hong Kong society. This points to the value and potential impact of what may be considered a fairly simple experience of collecting donations on a Hong Kong street corner.
For more information, see this entertaining video about flag day created by Mr. Kersten.