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《Lessons for Elementary School (9)》 __ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Development and Competition

It is an early summer day, when people realize that the school term is about to come to an end. Nancy and her classmates are talking about what they will do during the summer holidays.

Many of them have their summer programs set already. Their parents have engaged tutors to teach them do a variety of things, such as swimming, tennis, dancing, cycling, painting, piano, violin etc. These are in addition to tutorials on school subjects. Dianna says her parents had arranged her to learn modeling, so she can earn lots of money.

Mr. Shaw learned about the sharing of plans. He asked: “Who will have a summer free of tutored learning?”

Nancy raised her hand, together with eight classmates. The rest of the class all had summer tutoring programs waiting for them.

Back home after class, Nancy asks: “Grandpa, why do we have to learn anything during our summer holidays?”

“Well, I don’t really know, because I did not go to school much. But I suppose your friends’ parents want their children to compete well and earn high marks.”

“Not only that. Elaine and Matthew both said their parents wanted them to enter Harvard and Yale after high school. They believe it will be a great asset in life to graduate from Harvard.”

“What do their tutors help them to learn?”

“Elaine said she would have to practise piano three hours every day. Matthew had to practice practise tennis two hours every other day.”

“What about you?”

“Mom says I should learn how to cook. Is that OK, Grandpa?”

“Whatever your Mom says is OK. It is a wonderful idea.” Grandpa approves.

Then, remembering his own experience, he says: “I did my first cooking session when I was eleven. It was during the summer harvest, when everyone was busy harvesting rice, getting them dried, and turning the fields to prepare them for planting the next crop, all within two weeks It was the busiest time of the year when family members young and old must work their hardest. We invited a relative to help. She was a distant cousin, a girl of thirteen years from town. She was supposed to cook in the house and carry the mid-day meal to feed the busy workers out in the field. But she did not know how to cook; so she sat crying. I knew we must prepare the meal; else our family members would go hungry. So I did the cooking, with her tending the fire.”

“Wow!” Nancy is touched by the story. She is both curious and admiring, and she asks: “But how could you do it, Grandpa?”

“Well. I had seen my Mom and others cooked. So, I just did it. Years later, I read someone said that ‘necessity is the best teacher’. I also believe that doing it hands on is also the best teacher, because in doing something again and again, you always try to do it better. I had done a lot of things by just remembering what I had observed. I like watching people do things and learn by observing.”

“But it is so scary to do things that you had not done before. Were you not afraid that you might fail to cook that meal?”

“Yes, a little bit. But I was more concerned that my people in the field had nothing to eat when they were tired and hungry. They had to continue working. In any case, I did a good job and received praises. You never know what you can or cannot do, if you just sit there doing nothing.”

“Grandpa, is that how you become such a good father and grandpa?

“Well. I don’t know if your Dad considers me to be a good father. But I thank you for saying I am your good Grandpa. I had an excellent mother. But my Dad was always mad at me, so he was not good. As for learning to be a good grandpa, I don’t know if they teach such things in the universities. But, I did have a couple of friends with wonderful grandfathers in the old village. They were also kind and caring to me. So, I learned that it is important to care for others, especially your family.”

“Which of the three grandpas do you like the most?”

“I loved them all. We compared which cucumber was sweeter and tastier than another. But we seldom compared people.”

“But we always compare marks in class, and see who comes out first."

"Do you like competition? Nancy?”

“I don’t, Grandpa. There is only one first place in any competition, and a lot of people who lose and feel bad, as if they had less value.”

“Well, when I was little in the village, we accepted that individuals were different. For example, I was quite good in catching fish. But I could not climb a tree because I was afraid of height. My neighbor three-house
away was very good in finding mushrooms on hill slopes. So, we used to share things we found or caught or plucked from tall trees.”

“That sounds fun, Grandpa.”

“It was a lot of fun, even when we were poor. We were very happy living together in harmony.

“What is harmony, Grandpa?”

“It means living together peacefully, without competing or having to win. Actually, it means more. It means accepting similarities while respecting that we are all different. It means respecting one another and sharing what you have in the village.”

“How come we cannot do it now in the city, and in my school?”

“I suppose there are a lot of reasons. But I don’t really know. I guess you are doing it too, in your own ways, like you were happy to get in second place that time. I do know that when we respect our friends and classmates as individuals, each with special abilities and disabilities, we are living in harmony.”

“I agree with you, Grandpa. In fact, we all accept that Elaine always wins first place in tests. But, she does not accept Joseph and Allen and Liza who get last places almost all the time. She looks down on them.”

“Well, do you like Elaine?

“I like her, Grandpa.”

“And do you like Joseph and Liza and Allen too?”

“Yes, I do.”

“That is my good girl!”

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