Parents of Northern Academy Students: Education Should Nurture Virtue
(Minghui.org) A few years ago, I heard that the new Northern Academy had been established in Middletown, New York, and the school was accepting students in 6th through 12th grades, but I did not plan on sending my child there.
We lived in New Jersey, where the standard of education in public schools ranked among the highest in the U.S. My child was in a gifted class at the time. Comparatively, the curriculum at Northern Academy was not as challenging. I knew many teachers there practice Falun Dafa and that it followed through in their teaching, which emphasized traditional values. But we felt that we were strict in educating our child, and besides reading the teachings of Falun Dafa regularly, we often checked up on what was taught in school. If anything was contrary to the principles taught by Falun Dafa, we would promptly teach our child the right thing. We therefore did not think it was necessary to send our child to Northern Academy.
Things began to change by the time my son turned 10. He stopped listening when we reasoned with him. He would say, “What you’re saying is your opinion. I have my own opinion, and there’s no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of choice.” There was no way we could teach him to tell right from wrong. Gradually, he stopped sharing with us what went on at school because our views were different. He thought we were set in our ways and he wanted to find his own path.
But how could he do this, and what standard should he follow? He had no idea. Intelligent kids learn things quickly, including vices. Nowadays leftist thinking has severely infiltrated media and schools. How can a child learn the right values? Sure enough, my son started to adopt a cynical attitude and often said, “I don’t care.” He studied the Fa teachings less frequently and became dispirited. He shut himself in his room after returning home from school and seldom spoke to us. The atmosphere at home grew increasingly tense.
I flipped through many theories on education and read other mothers' experiences online, but I felt the solutions given by so-called experts did not solve the fundamental problem. There were a few successful cases that relied on religious faith. Of course, as Falun Dafa practitioners, the best way through this was to study the teachings. During the school holidays, we read the teachings and did the exercises every day with my son. He became better and happier.
When he went back to school in September, the bad influences reappeared. On top of that, he had a lot of homework and spent less time reading the Fa. His condition worsened. During Christmas break, we caught up on Fa study and things improved a little, but when he returned to school, he reverted to his old ways. It was like a tug of war, with both us parents and the declining moral standards in society pulling at him from opposite ends.
A sharing from a parent of a Northern Academy student at the 2018 Washington DC Falun Dafa Cultivation Experience-Sharing Conference touched me. Her son quit playing computer games while studying at the school and changed his ways. This made me wonder if I was attached to fame. A gifted class in a renowned school–wasn’t this a pursuit of ordinary people? Can they truly give my son a good education?
I then read this paragraph in Master’s teaching:
“In the early days of Shen Yun most of you didn’t have a good understanding of what it was, and worried about what would become of your kids down the road [if they joined the company], when they were no longer dancing. They didn’t realize that it’s not my way to just utilize someone while they’re useful and then, that’s it, be done with them. I had to think about the kids’ future welfare. So I started a secondary school, a college, and a graduate program. At first, though, some parents were reluctant to send their kids and part with them. They didn’t want to part with them when they were twelve or thirteen and very limber, which is a great age at which to develop one’s technique. But then when the kids got to be fourteen or fifteen, the parents found that they were out of control, defiant, and argumentative, and they couldn’t deal with it anymore and quickly sent them to our school (laughter). But at that point the kids weren’t as flexible and had a hard time with the training at the Mountain.” (“2018 Fa Teaching Given in Washington, D.C.,” Team Yellow Translation)
My son had just turned 12, and things were already tough. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like when he was 15. My husband and I took my son to Northern Academy for an interview.
Compared to other schools with better funding, the campus at Northern Academy appeared a little plain. However, in stark contrast, the students were more energetic with youthful smiles on their faces. While my son was being interviewed, a teacher came over to chat. He said the kids at the school are happy and he hears the sounds of laughter every day. Sometimes he has to go out and tell them to lower their voices as it could disturb teachers who were preparing for lessons. He said he has taught at many other schools in the past and observed that students at Northern Academy were the happiest. He added that teaching children is not a problem as long as the children were happy, as they were more apt to listen.
We let go of some of our doubts after hearing the teacher’s introduction to the school. But when we saw the full-on class schedule, arranged from morning to night, we couldn’t help but wonder: With no time for play, can these kids be happy? Will my son become a bookworm?
We decided to let go of our worries and give it a try. My son thus began studying at Northern Academy.
He quickly settled into the new environment and did not complain about not having time to play. In fact, he loved going to school and became more cheerful. Naturally he did not mind following the various rules at school. Every week the school has an assembly to set out the behavior expected of students as well as lessons on moral values tailored towards kids of different ages. The moral lessons build children’s character through teaching traditional Western philosophies, such as the theories of Aristotle and so on. As time went by, my son became more polite at home and learned to say sorry or thank you when interrupting us or asking for help.
My friends did not understand why we moved from the bustling greater New York area to a quiet town upstate. My son told them he didn’t enjoy learning in the past but now liked attending school. My friend was still puzzled: There’s nothing special about the curriculum at Northern Academy, and there are few recreational facilities, so how could children be happy?
I told him a story about my son learning Chinese. As we are a Chinese family, we wanted him to learn our native language. But my son was not enthusiastic because his friends don’t speak the language. He went to a weekend Chinese school once and refused to go back. He said we were torturing him when we asked him to learn Chinese. At Northern Academy, the staff put him straight into the Level 2 Chinese class, thinking he must have some foundation in the language as he is Chinese and we speak the language.
But my son hardly spoke any Chinese then. The teacher downgraded him to Level 1 when he discovered that my son had trouble keeping up. After attending one class, my son wanted to return to the Level 2 class because he was happier there. I learned that Level 2 students were required to memorize the main book of Falun Dafa, Zhuan Falun. I went to see the teacher and asked him to give my son another chance.
The teacher reluctantly agreed to let him try it for a month on the condition that he passed the next exam. My son accepted the challenge. He got us to teach him new characters every day and read a sentence of Zhuan Falun. He couldn’t understand the meaning, and the phrases were not like those people use in everyday life. In the beginning, he memorized the words based on how they were pronounced. But the more he memorized, the more he enjoyed it. He quickly progressed from reciting a short segment (between commas) to a full sentence every day. Two weeks later, he took the test and got full marks.
My son thus remained in Level 2 and continued to memorize Zhuan Falun. If he exceeded his target that day, we would tell the teacher. He would then be tested in class, and the teacher would praise him for his progress. This in turn encouraged our son to work harder. His temperament began to change.
The teachers and parents at Northern Academy share a common goal: to instill good character in children. We work together as a team and exert force in the same direction. Other schools have different education ideals from us. On top of that, many negative elements in society have a bad impact on children. I think that’s one of the reasons many kids grow up to become bad-tempered adults.
Through my child’s experiences, we realized that renowned schools may have posh facilities and modern campuses, as well as teaching staff with top qualifications, but beautiful appearances are meaningless if the education objectives have deviated.
Another Student Learns to Like Music
My son didn’t like playing his string instrument, but he was quick at learning new things. In public school, his classmates regarded music as a hobby. He easily stood out among them and was not motivated to practice diligently. It was a pain to get him to practice every time.
He went through a huge change after switching to studying music at Northern Academy. The school has a concert practice every week where students have to do a solo recital in front of everybody. The students are rather talented and have a high standard despite learning for a short period of time. My son felt some pressure after hearing other people's recitals and dared not take things lightly.
On top of that, the school sets aside time for individual practice every afternoon under the supervision of teachers. Because everyone around him practiced their instruments diligently, my son was forced to practice too. Gradually he became accustomed to the routine. Other forms of practice, such as rehearsals for orchestra and ensembles, made things more interesting for the students.
The greatest stimulus for improvement came from my son’s desire to be accepted into Fei Tian Academy. By the end of the first year of school, nearly half of his class had been accepted into Fei Tian Academy. My son felt a bit lost seeing his friends leaving. He regretted not working harder and wasting precious time. He set himself a goal: to get into Fei Tian Academy. He practiced hard during the summer holidays. He went from practicing an hour a day to three hours.
His skills improved tremendously after the summer. His classmates were happy for him, and they all learned from each other. The arts sector is known for being fiercely competitive, and relationships between students in other arts schools are often tense. At Northern Academy, although there is competition among the students, it is positive. Everyone competes to see who makes progress more quickly, yet at the same time they help one another. Older kids look after the younger ones, and seniors take care of newcomers. Kids get on harmoniously. Besides making progress in his music skills, my son also learned to be motivated and caring in such an environment.
Third Student Finds a Pure Land for Traditional Arts
Since he was very young, our child had a passion for traditional music and refused to listen to contemporary music. He showed a talent for music at an early age and won first prize at an international piano competition. But as he got older, he became influenced by friends and classmates into thinking that technology was the better career path and that music could only be a hobby. He was also uninterested in the popular music performed by the school orchestra. As time went by, he stopped playing music. But he admitted that he loved music above everything. He felt as if he had lost his goal in life by giving up music. He became depressed and shut himself off from the world. His temper got worse.
We learned that the music professors at Northern Academy teach classical music. We hoped the environment would help revive his passion in music.
My son listened to and played classical, orthodox music every day at Northern Academy. After a week at the school, he started to sing at home, and at night when he sleeps his mind is filled with music performed by the orchestra during the day. In less than a month, he decided he wanted to become a professional musician.
Having found his goal in life, my son began to smile again, and he became jovial. When we reminded him not to lose his temper at school, he said he hadn’t been upset in several months.
To expand our child’s musical horizons, we had often taken him to listen to student performances and music workshops taught at world-renowned institutions in Manhattan. We were very disappointed. Although the techniques displayed by the students were outstanding, their appearance was unrefined and their expressions arrogant. The teachers were even worse. Playing a string of high-pitched notes on the piano, attempting to imitate the sounds of birds chirping in nature, it was erratic and meaningless. Yet the audience seemed to enjoy the performance. This was supposed to be the work of a top-notch music institution? My son would say angrily afterward he did not want to attend such a performance again.
Later on, we attended a highly acclaimed orchestra performance at Lincoln Center. It was indeed a classical performance, but we didn’t know why the musicians swayed in unison while playing their instruments. It was distracting and we could not enjoy the music at all. We were not sure if they were using their instruments or body to play music.
After several unpleasant experiences, we realized that everything in this world had degenerated, and even something as refined and sacred as classical music had not been spared. While we were shocked by the realization, we were grateful that Northern Academy gives children a place to learn untainted, noble music and perform with grace and elegance.
The music lessons taught at Northern Academy are all-encompassing and solid. Students not only learn classical music and rehearse for the orchestra, but they also study music theory and train in listening. At the same time, they are taught to appreciate other forms of music, such as folk and classical Chinese music.
My son graduated from junior high this year. While selecting a graduation piece, we gained a deeper understanding of what good music is. The school required that the piece be classical. My son initially chose a piece from a well-known British composer from the last century. This piece had been performed by nearly every renowned cellist in modern history. It was also considered one of the most popular songs by most people. The tune was melancholic and touching. When he submitted his choice to the school, the teachers told him it wasn’t appropriate, as it was not considered a classical piece. They suggested my son change his piece.
My son did not understand why such a beautiful piece did not meet the school’s requirements. He chose another song but tried practicing the original piece in his spare time. After a few days, he said the music brought him to a period of time when he was most depressed. It made him feel gloomy. When I heard this, I told him to stop playing the piece.
“You should know that mankind's true arts first appeared in the temples of Gods. Another purpose of Gods' passing on this aspect of culture to human beings was to let humans see the magnificence of Gods, and believe in goodness and evil receiving their due--evildoers will receive retribution, good people will receive blessings, and cultivators will go up to Heaven.” (“Teaching the Fa at the Discussion on Creating Fine Art,” Teaching the Fa at the Discussion on Writing Music and Creating Fine Art)
Master also said:
“I like to look at those traditional and upright works, those ceiling paintings and murals of Gods, and those sculptures of Gods. After I see them, I always feel that mankind still has hope of returning, because those works are depicting the Gods' magnificence, and the Gods in the sculptures are truly doing good things for people from the other side.” (“Teaching the Fa at the Discussion on Creating Fine Art,” Teaching the Fa at the Discussion on Writing Music and Creating Fine Art)
I realized that good artworks can purify and uplift people’s moral standards. The ancients believed that virtuous arts and music can have an uplifting effect on one’s mind and body. Conversely, if a piece of music makes one feel depressed, although the technique and composition fit the definition of classical music, it is not good music because the theme and concept are not healthy, no matter how moving the melody may sound.
The school is strict in reviewing what students are taught, and the teachers' attitude toward education is also commendable. Teachers at the academy are responsible and truly care about the students' progress. They offer professional guidance based on each student’s unique capabilities.
Our child began learning piano at a young age and later learned clarinet. He is quite good at both instruments. The piano teacher at his school thought a string instrument would suit him better due to his physique. We accepted the teacher’s suggestion and switched our child to a string instrument. Indeed, after changing instruments, his progress was very rapid, beyond our expectations. This year, he was accepted into Fei Tian Academy of the Arts.