Classics for children

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-07 07:40
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What sort of textbooks should be allowed in our elementary schools is under heated debate in the nation.

The education department in Shandong province has imposed a ban on unabridged editions of classics for small children in local elementary schools. The forbidden texts include the Three-Character Textbook for Beginners, an elementary book for teaching children to read.

The book, compiled in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), was required reading for young children before the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. It offered the students a basic philosophy to guide them in the way they conducted themselves and a brief introduction to Chinese history.

The Shandong provincial education department has approved abridged versions of these children's classic primers with the parts that the education department deems "feudal poison" removed. They include phrases like "golden houses and beautiful wives can be found through study".

There is no doubt that some of the values the classics espouse are the ideology of older times. But removing controversy from elementary textbooks mars our children's ability to handle problems with depth and understanding. These classics are part of the nation's cultural past.

Many elementary schools and parents have started introducing classic Chinese reading materials to their children in recent years and the study of national culture - traditional Chinese philosophy, literature and history - has caught the attention of scholars.

Whether one deems our present society wonderful or awful, or both, such books help reveal how we arrived at this point and how times have changed. Understanding our past helps us understand ourselves and the world around us.

Why are parents turning their eyes to the textbooks written hundreds of years ago for their children?

We can begin to answer this question by noting that contemporary textbooks are kind of boring. The textbooks are carefully compiled to explain selected values to young minds.

Contemporary textbooks devote a lot of space to heroes. The education media turn flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect individuals without complexity, conflicts, pain, or human interest. Because such textbooks employ a godlike tone, it never occurs to most students to question them.

Students and teachers thus fall back on memorizing what is necessary for tests. Students exit textbooks without having developed the ability to think coherently about the nation.

As a result, many students are hamstrung in their efforts to analyze controversial issues in our society.