It turns out, Western critics of Chinese “Rote Memorization” methods may have been proven wrong by Western educators. Not surprising, critics were far too quick to jump to conclusions of what’s bad in education, while without really understanding the education process in depth.
Many recent year researches from educators have shown that “repeated reading” of learning material increases comprehension, (not just memorization).
Without admitting or comparing similarities of the “repeated reading” methods to traditional Chinese education methods, the education researchers shown benefits of such methods, which the ancient Chinese educators made popular (sometime around the Han Dynasty).
Some modern Chinese have dismissed the values of the old ways. (While I do not entirely adopt EVERY thing about the old education ways, I would think understanding its values is reasonable and necessary).
Thus, I wondered about my own education experience. Back in China, I hated memorizing. Yet somehow, after so many years, I developed a habit of “re-reading” things.
I would watch movies, read books, magazines, even blogs, over and over again. I even tutored some American kids to repeat reading out loud, which to their amazement worked very well.
People sometimes ask me why I’m so “obsessive” about “re-reading” old things that I already read.
I always tell them that because I find NEW things each time I re-read old things, and I never find my “comprehension” of the material to be complete.
Looking back, I realized that unconsciously, I was duplicating the very old Chinese way of learning: COMPREHENSION through repeated reading,
The ancient Chinese way involves repeating out loud text passages over and over again, and copying the characters over and over again. I didn’t understand it, and I used to hate it.
But now, I realize, one can find rich new meanings even in a single Chinese character, if one slows down.
In Tai-Chi, there is a similar concept of repeating the same movements of the body over and over again, each time feeling and learning new control of one’s body, thus truly comprehending one’s FULL range of control.
The Chinese learning philosophy, similarly, is about intense focus in the repeated writing and reading of each Chinese character, each concept, each time feeling and learning new aspects of the character or concept.
(Of course, kids may not realize this, and may simply repeat the exercise. But as the Western researches have also shown, even without realizing the goal of the philosophy, kids may still receive the benefits of “repeat reading”.)
There is a Chinese concept for the ultimate goal of this:
or in ancient Chinese,
In simple translation, the character is very roughly translated to “comprehend.” However, the more accurate translation is “an epiphany.”
The 2 parts of the character indicate the origin of the character, 1 part “heart”, the 2nd part the ancient Chinese character for “myself”, but also means “arrow hitting the target dead on.”
If one takes on all of these concepts, for this 1 single character, one realizes the character means a variety of things: comprehension, epiphany (the experience of a sudden realization), like an arrow hitting suddenly in one’s heart. It’s an feeling of revelation, intense, not easily describable.
BTW, the Buddhist name for the fabled Monkey King in Chinese legend is 悟空, which means roughly “to have epiphany of the emptiness.”
In traditional Chinese education process, it is believed that 悟, can only arise through repeated tries, like literally practicing to shoot an arrow to a target, each time coming closer and closer, while learning control.
Intuitively, that makes sense. Roughly reading any thing once won’t make much sense. Each new reading allows the ideas to flow and make associations to other ideas in one’s mind, thus giving more possibility of 悟.
Westerners do this too, more so in some traditional settings, such as where Jewish Rabbis undergo intense study of the Torah, through repeated readings. Or when Christian priests study specific passages of the Bible in great details, tracing back the original Hebrew or Latin words for some sentences, and learning new views and aspects of the old repeated words.
*Yet, somehow, arising in modern times the great criticisms of the Chinese “Rote memorization” system.
No, evidence point to otherwise. There is great traditional value and benefits to the Chinese education process, with its root in long history of China.
Some Westerners may have dismissed and abandoned their own similar ways. That is their loss.
They do not know and they are missing the 悟 experience in their own educations.
As for we Chinese, I think 悟 can be also applied in other aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to examining ourselves and improving ourselves.
A person is like a book, and one must strive to continuously and “obsessively” examine (re-read) one’s own virtues and faults.
A good example: Melektaus, through his articles examining the bad behaviors of some modern Chinese.
Too often in modern life, we do not take the time to 悟 one’s own inner nature. Surely, one’s own soul is far more interesting and more deserving subject of the 悟 experience, instead of hoping for 悟 by seeking out wanton wasteful materialistic experiences in life.
This is my recent 悟 experience, on the word 悟, as well as the value of my own learning habits, and the traditional Chinese education process.
While I do not claim that my 悟 experience is perfect (or should be duplicated), I can only hope that others can find their own 悟 experiences by any means they find helpful.