Yesterday was the first day of one of my Tsinghua classes. It has about 25 students. I asked each of them to say their favorite book in English. Several were mentioned twice: Pride and Prejudice (mentioned three times), Harry Potter, Catcher in the Rye, The Little Prince, and — this surprised me — The Secret. The last student to answer this question said her favorite book was Lolita. The class oohed. Last year a student said his favorite book was Ulysses. I said my favorite book was Cities and the Wealth of Nations. (A close second is Totto-Chan.)
I said the class would have three underlying principles: (a) Every student is different. (b) The best way to learn is to do. (c) Reading group. Two years ago, a Tsinghua engineering student started a reading group to read some famous Chinese book. He put a sign-up sheet in the library. The idea spread and now there are maybe ten reading groups, which meet weekly. It’s a alternative and successful educational system, they must be doing something right. To try to learn from their success, I am going to imitate their most obvious feature, which is a presentation about the week’s reading. For the coming week I asked for volunteers to give 5-minute presentations about the reading assignment. I said that if you gave a presentation, you wouldn’t have to do the regular homework assignment (commenting on the reading) for two weeks. Three students volunteered. After class, as I was leaving, one of the volunteers came up to me. She wanted to do the homework anyway, she said. She had volunteered to do a presentation “to exercise my bravery”.