We just completed a vacation in Xi’an, one of China’s oldest cities and the starting point for the silk road. The silk road was the first gateway to and from the Orient, it was the first real global link to the ‘Eastern’ countries of India and China. Trade of spices and silk, as well as cultural exchanges, started to take shape and lay the foundation for ‘world trade’ long before Europeans ‘discovered’ the America’s (in their quest for a shorter route to the East). This was the first of many ‘windows’ open to a new, more connected and more multicultural world.
While in Xi’an we witnessed the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Communist Party. In a very patriotic country, with only one time zone, the festivities were focused primarily in the capital city of Beijing, and so a vast majority of Chinese were glued to their televisions to see what was a really spectacular parade, on a scale only possible in a country with over a billion people. A very conservative guess would put 25,000 plus participants in the parade, and more than double the population of North America (including Mexico) sitting in front of televisions watching it. Even more ‘windows’ were open as live streaming of the event also happened via the internet.
Until fairly recently, China was a very closed society. Outside of Hong Kong, very few exchanges of information occurred (for the general masses) beyond what was shared from the times of the silk road. Of course this is a blatant exaggeration, but my point is that the central government held a tight grip on what products and information most Chinese got to see from outside the Great Wall. Things changed dramatically about 30 years ago, thanks to Mr. Deng Xiaoping.
On our trip, our tour guide Tony shared a lot of Chinese history beyond just the touristy sites we visited. On one excursion Tony told us about the much revered Mr. Deng loosely quoting him, “A country is just like a house, it has windows and gates. If you close the window, you get no fresh air, and also no flies. But if you open the window fresh air comes in and also some flies.” This marked the first step in China opening many windows and doors to the outside world. Yes, with the fresh air, some flies will follow, but China has become a world economical powerhouse because of it’s choice to ‘open the windows’. What I find interesting is that the one key window they still try to screen (filter) is the internet, much like many schools do today. But there are so many ways to get through the screens and so many tools to help you do it. It’s a battle not really worth fighting, yet in order to keep some of the ‘flies’ out, a lot of fresh air is also filtered out.
Mr Deng was smart enough to realize that an ‘open’ policy would bring with it some things that were not desirable, but that closing the ‘window’ would be far less desirable. I think this ‘open window’ metaphor continues to exemplify my concerns with schools filtering the internet. We fear the flies, and so the windows get shut… thus we also lose a lot of ‘fresh air’. I’ve already mentioned that we need to remove the bubble wrap from our schools, and expressed in that post why filters actually hinder rather than help in education. We need to educate students about the world of information available to them on the internet. We need to teach them to search for information intelligently and we need to show them how to avoid the ‘flies’. We… teach… them!
We also need to teach students to be tolerant of others. To be respectful of other cultures and other ways of doing things. To treat each other with dignity and generosity and to offer friendship… face-to-face and online.
Tony shared another quote by Mr. Deng, “No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat, as long as it could get a mouse it is a good cat” and as Tony continued he explained, “So, no matter who you are, if you do good deeds you are a meaningful person.”
From every country, from every part of the world, from every culture, there have been wise men and women who have thoughtfully shared values that transcend the time and place they come from. Thirty years ago, Mr. Deng was not really talking about windows, flies and coloured cats, he was talking about openness and acceptance. The leaders of today may not always share these ideas, but the school of today can help to ensure that these ideas are valued in the years to come.
Think Good Thoughts,
Say Good Words,
Do Good Deeds.