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Written by Liu Chunlei, Bi Lanlan, Hu Shulei / Tongbu Boarding School

Love towards homeland is not just words. We live on this precious land, but sometimes we forget and neglect many valuables provided by the homeland. Guiding students to regain dust-covered memories is a beginning to restore our love towards homeland – love in actions and love in our hearts.

Since the compulsory education schools in rural China were adjusted (due to the canceling teaching centers and merging primary and middle schools policy), the resulting expansion of boarding schools has weakened the connections between schools, students and villages. Speedy memorization of villages and changes in consumption attitudes have reduced the willingness of college graduates to return to their homeland to start new businesses. Many graduates do not care about agricultural production problems of their homeland and are indifferent towards their homeland. Ordinarily, schools should be the culture centers of the villages or towns where they are located. But as isolation develops, valuable village stories, skills, and techniques closely related to our productive lives have been lost with the passing of elder villagers – vanished forever in the long river of history. We, as teachers in countryside schools, have an obligation to work with our students to record and preserve the village knowledge, stories, skills and agricultural techniques, make them a part of local culture, passed from generation to generation. The process of recording local stories will enable students to further understand and bond with their homeland through their actions in survey, data collection, sorting and analysis. It will also promote their confidence in and identification with local culture.

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Tongbu Elementary Boarding School in Inner Mongolia is a pilot school for the Green Eco School Project of Zigen. Since the 2017 Fall semester, teachers Liu Chunlei, Hua Lanlan and Hu Shulei of the school have meticulously developed “Survey of Local History” classes to give students refreshing new learning experiences, in addition to regular classes and campus life. We jointly named the classes “Native Voices and Nostalgia – a Survey of Local History and Social Practices by Tongbu Elementary Boarding School.” Our survey primarily focused on the history and tools of agriculture production of the villages. (Teach Liu Chunlei participated in the “second training class of “Building a Sustainable Village Together” teacher training, which was sponsored by Zigen at the Beijing Normal University in April 2017. He is one of the seeding teachers for the Zigen project in Inner Mongolia.)

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The children also learned that although many production tools looked primitive, they came from the crystallization of laborer’s wisdom. Manufacture and usage of these tools require skills. Invention and utilization of these tools have greatly improved the efficiency of local agriculture production.

The school called a special mobilization meeting to start the survey. Our 6th-grade students, with help from their parents, formed many groups to conduct a survey across 21 villages in the Tongbu township. They visited elder villagers to record their oral history of how the villages were named and the changes they experienced through the years. They took a census of people’s family names. They asked the villagers about the structure and functions of the tools used in agricultural production. The students learned to use these tools on site. With help from parents, the students took videos of the visits and recorded information with cell phones. Upon returning to the school, they searched and utilized internet information to supplement and analyze their survey. Afterwards, they shared and discussed their survey with classmates.

After presenting the results of the activities, we received appreciative gratitude from the communities. Quoting feedback from many parents and friends, “These activities enabled students to recall and understand the history and culture of their homeland.” “Patriotism starts from love of family and love of homeland.” and “To build up our homeland, we must love it, to love our homeland, we must understand it.”

Besides loving and understanding their homeland, the students have improved their communication abilities and accumulated knowledge through practice. This is what they did not learn from lessons in classroom. For future practices and activities, the students will conduct more comprehensive and detailed surveys to cover more topics, including environment, economy and humanities, etc. We will construct a cultural corridor to display the results of the surveys and will compile the survey reports for extracurricular reading.

Translated by Chin Houi Lin, born in Fujian, China and grew up in Taiwan. After graduating from the Chemical Engineering Department of National Taiwan University, he received a PhD degree from Rice University in the US. He is currently retired after working in NASA Johnson Space Center for 36 years, specializing in technology developments, design and analysis of space flight life support and thermal control systems.

Edited by Florence Pu, BA of Foreign Language and Literature from National Taiwan University, MS of Library Science from University of Rhode Island, currently retired from the University of California system.

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