“Children’s bad behavior is mostly because they do not receive enough affection from their parents. So when children make mistakes, do not punish or scold them, but embrace them with more warmth and love,” Chu Tai-hsiang (朱台翔) said, as she recounted the events that had spurred her to establish the Forest Elementary School, a learning environment free of corporal punishment and force-fed education.
About 23 years ago, Chu was a mathematics teacher who had a reputation of “butting into” how other teachers disciplined their students.
“It’s easier said than done. How can teachers possibly educate students without using corporal punishment? If you think you can do better, why don’t you establish your own school?” Chu quoted one of her colleagues as saying to her at the time.
To the astonishment of Chu’s coworkers, their derision of her methods not only led to Chu starting a school, but one outside the national education system.
While Chu’s attempt to change what many consider an outdated, conventional education system have earned her plaudits, it has also seen her embroiled in legal wrangles with conservative education officials as she became the first to be taken to court for pushing reform of the education system.
Recalling the day she stood in court, Chu said the judge’s first question to her was “what positive effects did she think a forest elementary school could exert on society as a whole.”
“I heaved a sigh of relief when I heard that question, because I knew it was the system that was to blame and not me,” said Chu, who is also chairwoman of the Humanistic Education Foundation, which established the school.
Located in a more than 80-year-old building, Chu’s school in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sijhih District (汐止) houses 51 students, 19 teachers and faculty members as well as 14 adopted stray dogs.
Unlike most schools that prize academic performance and intellectual development above everything else, Chu’s institute puts young pupils in an natural environment where they can freely explore their thoughts, feelings and creativity, without being held back by traditional textbook learning.
Children have enormous flexibility and are viewed as the main body of teaching activities, Chu said, adding that her school also seeks to enlighten students via thematic teaching methods.
“For instance, amid the ongoing anti-nuclear movement, students here have spent considerable time gathering information and deliberating on the issue. They have also made banners and posters bearing anti-nuclear slogans,” Chu said.
Chu said that the students did not do so for the sake of exams or higher grades, but because each of them had their reasons for opposing nuclear energy.
Chu said her capability to love and care for young children was cultivated by her family. While her father was in the military, her mother worked at a street stall and they had little time for her and her four siblings, but they had still managed to fill the house with warmth and love.
“Whenever I saw my father, every part of me, even my dimples, would be the subject of his praise,” Chu said.
“As for my mother, she trusted me so completely that when I told her I had lost a pair of roller skates that I borrowed from a classmate, she took me to buy a new pair without giving me a lecture,” she said.
Influenced by her parents’ philosophy, Chu is convinced that children only thrive when they are loved and respected, and that it takes time and patience to put them on the right path.
“It is inevitable that children make mistakes … but failure is merely a part of life that all children are bound to experience. In the meantime, parents must match their words with actions before they can instill a sense of responsibility in their children,” Chu said.
Chu, 63, said her greatest aspiration in life is to live to see the abolition of corporal punishment.
“But as my colleagues said, I might have to live more than 100 years to ever see that happen,” she said.