Leading children astray


We are half way though making our table.  It is a simple project but, of course, there is a language barrier and the natural chaos that ensues from four people working on one table.  It is kinda crazy.  But it is also fun and, even better, it is the reason the Chinese students are here.

No, NOT to learn table-making (I am in no position to teach any kind of real carpentry) but they are here to exercise gweilo-thinking and especially independent thinking.  Having to ‘work it out for yourself’ is very uncommon in Chinese society.  Usually there is a teacher and the teacher shows you the way.  It is a recipe.  Always a recipe.  It is very rigid.  All they have to do is learn by rote and they pass the test.  Memory?  Yes.  Understanding?  Not so much.  Table-making with Dave is a course of a different colour.

No one knows what the hell is going on!

“So, we are going to make a table.  What size table should it be?”

The question is met with three blank stares.  I repeat the question.  And we all wait while the wheels in their little heads try to come up to speed.  Size suggestions are hesitatingly offered up.  Each refused by the crazy-as-a-hoot-owl teacher.  Confusion reigns.  I smile.  They look perplexed.  Finally one kid says, “What are you going to use the table for?”

“YES!!  That is the right question……….well, let us think about use.  Let’s talk about use.  What kind of questions come up for that?”  And so it goes.

By the time we were half-way through making the table frame, I reached for the tape measure to mark a piece of wood.  I couldn’t find it.  Two of the kids had  already thought about it, referred to the sketch, found the wood and done it.

Yes, you read that right……….they had done it!  That means using the chop saw! With, of course, previous instruction and coaching.  They were very careful and very good when learning how to use it.  Their Chinese teacher, however, was having a heart attack.  I explained to her that a scar is the best way to remember an adventure.  She looked horrified.  But they went unscathed.  So far, anyway.  The table isn’t done yet.  Plenty of time for a little blood-letting still.

This ‘just do it’ attitude is very, very different from the way they usually behave.  Especially at school.  This time they anticipated!  This time they took the initiative!  “So, you think I am gonna need two pieces this long, eh?  What makes you think that?” And they explain pointing to the sketch.  And I say, “Right!”

“Now, did you measure correctly?  Can I cut the wood without checking it?  Are you sure?”

“Yes!  We are sure.  Cut the wood!”  And so I did.

And it was good.

At this particular juncture, they all feel as if they are well on their way to becoming accomplished carpenters……..if only the tools weren’t so heavy! 

Some female Chinese students are so slight that, try as they might, they cannot hold the drill level.  Screwing in a screw is virtually impossible.  They just don’t have the ‘heft’ that such tasks require.  Having said that, they keep trying even if it is nigh on impossible.  It is both admirable and pathetic at the same time…….sadly, sometimes size matters!

I have a prediction: when China develops their own domestic markets further, they will develop a line of tools that are half-size.

OK.  Nostradamus, I am not!  But I am fast becoming a renown teacher of Chaos theory.


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