‘The Great Learning’ and The Sixth Grade

The first difference Catherine Haddad noticed when she saw a classroom of students too young to grasp the text, but nonetheless reading aloud “The Great Learning,” a collection of Confucianism classics, was how singularly focused they all were.

“Our kids expect to be entertained,” she said. “They want fun. I don’t know whether they think this is fun at first, but I do know that they can now sit through an entire class and their focus doesn’t waver.”

Haddad has gradually expanded the Chinese language curriculum at Country Day, from an Upper School Advanced Placement elective, to a semester-long introduction for fifth graders, to her latest class: a yearlong immersion in classics recitation, character recognition and pronunciation training for the sixth grade.

Two things differentiate Haddad’s method: The first is that it’s very old, despite falling out of popularity in China for several Cold War decades after the fall of the Qing dynasty. The second is that the source material is even older; the “Great Learning” was written around 400 years before Christ.

“My goal is to give them some human wisdom,” Haddad said. “I want them to recognize the value of the classics, but I don’t want to explain word for word to them, I want to give them the big picture.” “The same text will also be read in English in their World Civilizations course in ninth grade.” Haddad added.

Central to providing the big picture is separating the reading and spoken parts from the writing part. In Haddad’s experience, when exposing children — especially Western children — to Chinese for the first time, expecting them to listen, speak, read and write all at once often poses an unrealistic goal and the speaking is invariably the part that suffers most to accommodate the slower pace of learning to read and write in Chinese.

She pointed out that children don’t learn language by building on a spoon-fed scaffolding of grammar, but rather by listening, seeing and repeating the sounds they hear and recognize. It doesn’t matter, at least in the beginning, whether or not they understand what those sounds mean.

“It’s like painting,” Haddad explained. “You have to have the passion first. Then you can learn technique. If you have no passion, there will be no life in your painting, and writing characters is technique.”

In one of Haddad’s sections, the crinkling of snack wrappers ends as she launches into spoken Chinese without any introduction or warmup. Then, all at once and as one, the class stands and bows. They begin reading aloud in unison. An occasional voice stumbles out of sync, then catches up and restores the sonic unity.

Then Haddad starts beating a basic training-style rhythm on the desk, with the teacher as the tempo-keeper and the students echoing her words in call-and-response.

The point of this is to facilitate memorization as well as aiding pronunciation of the rhythmically dynamic Chinese language, where the rises and falls of stressed and unstressed syllables contain much of the spoken language’s meaning.

“With classics and the read-aloud method, comprehension doesn’t take the front seat,” Haddad said.

“Classics are valuable, sacred, remarkable books, the essence of human wisdom. They’re eternal and universal and their meaning transcends time, nations, philosophies and religions.”

2017 Duck Parade

Dale Mylin teaches by far the most popular elective at LCDS, and probably the only one that makes second-graders shriek with delight.

Ever since a studious Mallard mother decided to start laying her eggs in the school’s courtyard more than 15 years ago, Mylin has choreographed the annual spring herding of her and her ducklings from their nest to the stream by the Lower School parking lot.

The closed-in garden is safe for nesting, but after the ducklings hatch they are easy prey for hawks and they can’t fly out. Their migration takes the family through the lobby and out the front door, winding around the building inside an ever-shifting tunnel of students and teachers.

“This duck knows what she’s doing,” Mylin said. “Before we went to get her, she was already walking up to the library doors to try to get out that way.” But so long as no one spooks her, Mama Duck is accommodating enough to take the long way, ushered by Mylin and a few hundred of his feather-free cohorts. There’s no water for the ducklings in the garden, and they have to take the plunge within 48 hours of hatching.

 

‘We Truly Are All Diverse’

Text and Photos by David W. ’19

On April 21, years of work culminated in the first-ever Diversity Fair at Lancaster Country Day School. The two-hour event was meant to “show people that we care about everyone in this school, no matter who they are or where they come from,” said Diversity Council co-President Andrew S. ’17.

The council seeks to promote diversity in the LCDS community. Over the last five years, it has become an influential organization with an ever-growing membership. Several years ago, according to co-presidents Aarica F. ’17 and Andrew S. ’17, a member of the council presented the idea for a fair to the community. That idea finally came to fruition last Friday.

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“It’s been a lot of work. When we were elected co-presidents, Aarica and I immediately started to plan this project. The entire council put their hearts into it. We’ve spent hours and hours planning with the administration and fundraising,” Andrew said. “It’s been crazy.”

The hours paid off. The event was a huge success, with students, teachers, parents and alumni all in attendance Friday. To start off the afternoon, attendees gathered in the courtyard, listened to the jazz band perform and ate a variety of different foods from different cultures. Ribbons representing LGBT+ pride hung around doors and railings. Flags from dozens of different countries adorned the walls and the Pan-African flag hung in a window.

After the performance, everyone moved inside to the library. Speakers played music from a mix of different cultures and decades. Student-made trifold poster boards lined the room. Members of the Diversity Council stood and discussed topics such as feminism, education, wage disparity and body image.

“This is a way for us to show the world how proud we are of our identities,” said Madison B. ’17, the current president of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance at Country Day. “It’s a way for us to educate and learn from each other.”

There was one voice missing from the low hum of the crowd on Friday night. Co-president Aarica F. ’17 has not been able to speak for several months. Yet she was integral to the success of the fair. Aarica’s friends remarked that her undeniable energy and charm can always light up a room, even without a voice. Speaking to Cougar News, Aarica eloquently summed up the purpose of the fair through the Notes app on her phone.

“This whole process has been a real learning experience. Not being able to speak opened my eyes to all the people who don’t have a voice — either physically, or because they’re silenced by others with more power. That’s why I’m glad we did it. For the people who don’t have a voice: We hope this night was for you. And we hope you all learned something about diversity, because we truly are all diverse.”