Chanting prepares the brain to learn

May 31, 2008

A few weeks ago I presented to an evening session at Curtin Business School in Perth. As a part of that I referenced the object/context differences that have been observed between Chinese and American students. Like others I think this difference can be attributed to the different evolutionary pressures of pictorial languages over the more logical sequences of languages like English along with deeper cultural differences. After than one of the attendees Ling Heang sent me an interesting email about understanding, accepting and applying Ayurvedic Medicine. Ling also drew my attention to an interesting aspect of traditional Chinese Education.

I’m not sure if you’re aware of the traditional Chinese education before the end of Ching Dynasty? Traditional chinese education was based on the 9 major texts. Children start reading or more like chanting the words from the texts and memorise them as young as three or four till about 11 or 12, without any need to explain the meaning of those texts. To my untrained ears, the chanting is very much song-like tones (patterns!). Apparently this system enables the children to “sponge” in the knowledge of the ancient text and the brain could make sense of what they have chanted to knowledge. When the children are able to chant all the 9 major texts (forward and backward), they start the next journey – walk about the country or travel to some far away places. The journey could work as a rite of being teens and serve more as real life application of what they have chanted / learned. This education system has revised recently and is popular in Taiwan. My sister in Sydney has placed my young nephew in learning this education a few hours a week. I found him having a much stronger sense of curiosity, direction and memory bank than my 25 other nephews or nieces when they were of that age.

Now this matches other material I have read about the importance of repetition in education. Learning the tables, singing, learning a poem a week (I remember that) all create capability in the brain training it to handle more complex tasks later. Some of the more fluffy bunny self learning/actualisation fads that have swept education over the last decades may have damaged this capability and reduced intelligence in consequence.

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