The article is written by Yang Wang after two months after Moonshot Academy first semester started. Wang Yang and her daughter are the first family enrolled in Moonshot Academy. Why make her so sure about joining MSA without any hesitation? Find the answer in this story.
I. A bitterly cold winter
My friends at Moonshot Academy said they had some questions for me, and I thought one of the necessary items must be “Why I am here in MSA.”
However, they surprised me by asking, “What makes you so sure about joining MSA at the very beginning?” Good one! This question kept coming up during our extended hours of conversation. To provide an accurate answer, I might tell a long story.
It was late November last year when one of the mothers in our WeChat (a popular social media app in China) group shared the article “A Redefined Life and A Redefined School.” It was a very long article though, the parent group and I skimmed through it rather quickly and had a small discussion. I had the impression that the school and the young founder were so amazing that they created opportunities to change the model of education from the traditional school model. But it was just a small episode of my busy daily life and how could that be any relevance to me?
I remember it was a frigid winter in Beijing, and we have some difficult decisions to make. My eldest daughter was going to be in high school after the summer vacation, and the next academic year started in September 2018. For a better educational environment, we might have to transfer her to another school district; as a result, our lives and careers might face some changes, too. Moreover, our youngest son would soon be attending primary school, yet we were not able to settle which one was the best for him. Should we move? How could we balance the needs of the two kids? What made it more difficult was that my husband was tied up in some obstruction at work while I was still recovering from a severe illness. After 11 years of residing in Beijing, all of a sudden an intention of leaving crept in.
With many thoughts happening in my head, my ordinary life still goes on. At the crossroads near my home, there was a shoe repair stand, and the owner was in his 30s. Since it seemed that he had a knack for quite a lot of things within a reasonable price, I almost go to him for everything from shoe repairing to key cutting. In the cold winter weather outside, whenever the city of Beijing starts providing heating service to the public, he would close his shoe stand and reopen the next spring. Out of his routine, I found him repairing shoes in that cold winter day.
“You were never here in winter. Why the exception this year?” I chatted with him while waiting for my turn to repair shoes.
“I have decided to quit. This year would be my last year here in Beijing. I will go back to my hometown and not returning next year.”
“I started doing this small business to save up for my children’s education. But now the rent has been up from 500 yuan to 2,000 yuan, and the earning is barely enough for my rent. ”
“Where are you from?”
“I figured. I could tell by your accent. Why have you traveled so far to Beijing for Chongqing is quite a nice place? ”
“Where are you from?”
“Why have you traveled so far to Beijing for Shenzhen is quite an attractive place?”
We couldn’t help bursting into laughter. Some of Lu Xun’s words flashed into my head, “There are numerous destinations afar, and there are numerous people near, and they are all relevant to me. ” At that moment, sitting across from this tinker man, I felt like real brother and sister going through the same difficulties. I understood him.
“Fine. We shall bother this city no more and see ourselves off.” I think to myself.
After that conversation, every time I went by the crossroads, I would cast a look at the stand, it was always there until the Chinese New Year. Sometimes it was so windy that he would put down the large parasol on the ground to shield himself from the fierce wind. He seemed determined to leave. Even in this cold weather, he wanted to do his best to serve his clients until the last day. I did know when would be his last day, but I said goodbye to him in my mind and considered myself the next one to go.
The kids were considerate of my feelings even I didn’t express them.
One day, my eldest daughter said to me out of the blue, “Mom, how about we move back to Shenzhen?” Then we made a list of pros and cons between Beijing and Shenzhen.
“To me, only the museums in Beijing matter. But I don’t have time for that anyways. ”She said. She also posed herself for a top-notch high school in Shenzhen.
“That high school is tough to get in.”
“How should I know if I don’t give it a try?”
One thought led to another. We even imagined some happy moments if we were back in Shenzhen. My boy was already on the edge of his seat knowing that he could frequently visit Disneyland in Hong Kong. As the conversation concluded, I immediately booked the visit time to the high school in Shenzhen.
One of my friends, the mother who shared the article in the WeChat group had said,
“Sometimes there’s an exchange of energy between the city and its residents. Only when the residents interact with everything in the city would their lives be meaningful or would exude more content. Otherwise, it’s simply to live, to seek fame and fortune. There’s no sense of belonging or happiness at all.”Very well put.
Upon her words, I asked my family to reflect on these questions: should we go back to Shenzhen to escape the reality? Is it indeed a proper choice? Or should we stay put before the final answer emerges?
We agreed to stay at the moment.
None of us saw a beautiful gift coming our way. Maybe it’s happening because we held on.
Ⅱ Pay a visit to MSA?
In the morning of Jan. 12, 2018, the same friend asked me whether I wanted to visit MSA, and it on a Sunday afternoon two days later. I replied that I couldn’t for my husband was on a business trip, and I had to take care of my boy.
In the same afternoon, a gentleman named Gao Zhen sent me a WeChat message mentioning meeting me a couple of years ago for his child’s education. He intended to introduce me to a new school called Moonshot Academy specializing in innovative education that they have found in Haidian Huangzhuang. Having little impression of him, I looked through the chat history and found out that he consulted me about international schools back in 2015.
My instinct told me this Moonshine Academy was worth a visit. I even joked with him. “You’ve done a great job founding a new school in a short period. I’ve read that article “A Redefined Life and A Redefined School”; maybe I’m qualified for at least one of your admission requirements. ”
It turned out that Gao Zhen also invited my friend as well. Finally, my eldest daughter volunteered to babysit her younger brother, and I went to MSA together with my friend.
After being admitted to MSA, I thanked Gao Zhen numerous times for I would not have received this elegant gift but for his invitation. I even “pestered” him with the question “why me?” He said he read an article I shared about education on WeChat Moments and thinking that I might be interested in MSA.
Later I read the story “Junior Gao and Senior Gao” at the official account of MSA, and it was about the education of Gao Zhen’s son. I told him that I was moved. He said that it was all about an ordinary Beijing drifter’s struggle for kids. At once his words struck so much resonance in me that I understood the keywords of our similar destinies: ordinary people, Beijing drifter, and struggle.
Can we regard struggle as a constant craving for a better life and future?
I had nothing but curiosity the first time I went to MSA.
The environment and setups there were nothing like a “normal” school. After seating myself, I found out that it was the first community building meeting, which also became the starting one for my continuing attendances.
When it came to the self-introduction part, I noticed that the founder and other members were all pretty young. I was full of myself unconsciously as in my previous workplace: What a young team! Could they operate a school well? Luckily I didn’t make a fool of myself by showing that.
When it was my turn, I made no mention of my specialty or line of work. Instead, I started to talk about why I quit HR career with no reason, “It is true that I have a say in designing and using leading industry tools in the company, yet years of experience has allowed me to conclude that what matters is the people. In the long run, the most advanced tool will be of no effect if the person is not right. That’s why people got bored…” Ellen, the Chief Culture Official of MSA, who was sitting across from me, nodded repeatedly. At the recruitment briefing, I learned about what she had gone through in joining MSA and inferred that her nodding was indicative of special appreciation rather than mere politeness.
During the first session of the community building meeting, the staff presented their philosophy and methodology, which turned my curiosity into interest and the intention to support their ideas. Naturally, my ego tucked away.
At the second session, we were divided into two groups to put forward questions, and MSA staff would answer them. I left for the bathroom during the tea break. There was one seat beside Jason was vacant when I came back to the meeting. (Jason, the English name for Wang Xiqiao, the founder. We got so used to calling him by his English name.) I told myself that this seat was the one for me; it was the opportunity to learn about this young man who founded an innovative high school immediately upon his high school graduation.
It turned out that as long as he started to talk, I would forget how young he was. What he said made me humble, as well as open and sincere. Otherwise, I couldn’t stay for long at that meeting. So did other team members who were open and energetic. If I would want to stay in a conversation with them, I had to forget who I was and how old I was. There was only one moment that made me notice that they were genuinely young was when they were listening and eating snacks at the table because, in many workplaces in China, that was unseen and unheard.
All of us spoke our mind freely and sincerely. Words were warm and flowing inside the room, a distinct difference from the chilly and freezing outside.
Zale was responsible for marketing. Before joining Jason, he was in the second year of high school in the Affiliated High School of Peking University. He mentioned that he was interested in architecture and might go to college in the future. He admitted that he was very anxious at first since he was a high school drop-out and he has no kids. How was it possible for him to convince parents to send their children to MSA? With people’s help, he firmly believed that he was doing the right thing with the right people. Without his frank and honest introduction, it would never occur to me that he has not graduated from high school. Given his age, I was wondering how he could be neither self-abased nor self-conceited?
I found out later that he was an elite student and a cat person. There were several times when I contacted him, and he was cleaning his room. He lived alone and taking good care of himself.
I also saw him in the lunar module assembling the parts bought from Taobao into a fancy motorcycle. Indeed, he was capable of making his vehicle. For a long time he lived in Yanjiao, and he rode his motorcycle to Beijing every day for work.
He also told me that he would not attend too many open events. Already young enough as Jason, the public would get a wrong idea about MSA if he shows up also: how could incoming parents and community members look at the big picture since they were both under their 20s! I replied, people would have seen your ability and hard work, and pay very little attention to your age.
Even though Zale toiled and moiled every day, he always found joy in his work. He would praise his outcome from hard work: I’ve done an excellent job!
On one of the following recruitment briefings, Jason suddenly asked me to say something about my expectations of my children. I blurted out that I would be fortunate if my kids had learned a thing or two from Zale.
Anecdotes aside, let’s hark back to the community building meeting. My ego tucked away and never came back. The principal of MSA Lu concluded that a student fit for MSA must be independent, warm, and quick in actions. I related to it at once and couldn’t wait to be part of it. As a result, during the following “Check Out” session, I said pretty frankly, “I was just curious when I first got here, and I never thought my kids would have anything to do with this school. But a couple of hours later, I think one of my kids could probably become a student of the founding class. I will talk to my family tonight.”
The last one to share was Jason. He talked about how MSA was founded, leaning a little bit forward, and said, “Thank you all.” Then, unexpectedly he choked with tears. I found him a sensitive young man.
It was not until May when the recruitment was over, and the article about Jason’s review on this first community building meeting came out, did I know that he and his team had been through many obstacles, and they almost to the point of losing their original aspiration.
After the bonding meeting, my friend and I were so excited that we stayed behind to talk to Gao Zhen and Jason. Then an appealing thought came to my mind that my daughter always had a connection with some founding classes such as her kindergarten and primary school. Could it be her fate to follow the path of attending a brand new innovative education?
In raising my kids, I asked myself again and again what were my expectations of them. The answer was that, when they go live by themselves at 18, I expected them:
To take good care of themselves;
To learn to get along with people;
To have their ideas and make an effort to realize them.
Looking back at the founding class, I found it relevant to all these expectations. Even the adjustments during the course happened for overcoming obstacles in realizing the aspirations. I had a conversation with my daughter about my three expectations, and we agreed that they were consistent with the MSA vision of being a “fulfilled and active citizen.”
At this point in our conversation, the MSA interviewer interrupted, “Since when do you think money isn’t the most important thing?”
I thought about this question for a few seconds and answered, “Since I was a little girl. Although my family was poor when I was young, I had something that fulfilled me that had nothing to do with money. When I grew up, I come to know that as long as we do things properly, decent and quality life is out of the question. It isn’t some theory, but my personal experience, which is far more important than attending a prestigious college. Experience is the most precious thing we have in life. We may bring it along when we live, take it with us when we die, or leave it behind.”
In the next day after the community building meeting, I told Gao Zhen, “I have no idea of what impact of this visit will have on my family and me. But I’m so impressed that I can’t help asking myself the meaning of it.”
And I shared my deep impression and excitement with my husband and daughter at that very same day. They decided to go to the community building meeting the following weekend with several friends of mine I invited. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for them to witness what was going on in MSA and see if I lost my mind of choosing a brand new high school. The reason I invited my friends to share my joy of discovery of MSA was like I sought a pleasant shade on a hot summer day when my friends were wet with sweat under the scorching sun.
I asked for an application form from teacher Yang who was in charge of recruitment in the first community building meeting. I wasn’t in a rush to apply, just curious about the content and requirements. I believed I would find much information there and see if my daughter was qualified. By hindsight, this was a right move, and it took us two whole weeks to fill out the forms and prepare the materials, and we were delayed to submit the application package until the first deadline of the admission. It took a long time for that my daughter was burdened with homework since it was near the end of the term. Except that, we all enjoyed filling out the forms, answering the questions such as “What’s your favorite movie?” “Can you design some jobs that don’t exist right now?” “How to introduce yourself to an alien?” “Which book leaves the deepest impression on you?” These questions also tested whether MSA and we were a match.
My daughter said that she wanted to meet Jason in person, not just from stories. Jason was on a business trip in the United States on the weekend of the second community building meeting, which was different from the first one in form and content. Certainly, it did not prevent us from deciding to apply for MSA immediately.
When we were at the second meeting, Jason was meeting with Dr. Wang Jianli, Dr. Qian Zhilong and Mr. Ted Dintersmith, the producer of Most Likely to Succeed, the world-famous documentary about innovative education. He sent back the meeting outcomes: a Sino-US original education alliance to be found. Mr. Ted Dintersmith would provide support to the MSA team. I was impressed because I had seen the documentary a few days ago. I was also so touched seeing the group photo of Jason and the other gentlemen of authority that I said in the WeChat group:
“I want to share my feelings about seeing this photo. The first time I saw it, I thought it was good news that a Sino-US innovative education alliance would be founded and Ted Dintersmith would be a member of MSA consulting team. The second time I saw it, I was very much touched. I know four persons on the photo (to be specific, know their names), two in the middle and two on each end (Jason and Ted in the middle, Dr. Wang and Dr. Qian on each end). I don’t know whether their standing positions are in purpose or not. It doesn’t matter. It enlightens me on the meaning of “to support by showing up,” or “endorsement.” I have another word in mind: hope. The photo shows that the young man is standing at the center of the world stage. Another example is the round-table coffee talk yesterday afternoon. I assumed that MSA would like us to experience the meeting format, but as my daughter said on our way home, many adults’ talk was not pertinent to the subject. Thus, I guess it’s safe to say that we need to learn from the young, and to support them. If we don’t, we will be abandoned by the times and won’t be able to see the star-studded sky in the future. “
I remembered that at the end of 2017, I had a wish to find a learning organization in the next year. At that moment, I was convinced that I already found one.
“To be a fulfilled and active citizen” is an expectation I hold for my kids, as well as for myself. It’s said that everything is possible in 2049. The appearance of myself in 2049 is up to myself today — Do I feel the light around me? Am I willing to give out the light?
Once Jason’s teacher Grant asked him, “How do you recruit students?” Jason answered, “We are just trying to find the ones who are looking for us. ”
Ⅲ The coldest winter will come to an end
It was soon warming up after Chinese New Year. On March 11, my daughter took the admission examination of MSA. A week later, she received the admission notice. When applied for the primary school for my youngest boy, we met with some setbacks though, and eventually took care of them at the end of the month. My husband started to get his work back on track, and the countdown to the publication of my book began.
One day when I walked by the crossroads near my home, as usual, I looked at that shoe repairing stand out of habit and surprised to see that young man from Chongqing came back.
Last winter, drizzling the rain and snow.
This spring, lingering the poplar and willow.
Upon the admission, I anxiously longed for at least another 20 families to attend MSA, so that the curriculum could be carried out smoothly. Finally, I was amazed to know that there were 39 students were on board. It was indeed a miracle with such a happy ending in such a short time. God knows how much effort every team member had put into to make it happen!
It’s pretty much the end of the story. But I want to tell another tale after admission.
One day I was accidentally informed of the relocation of Xinzhuang Normal School and the teachers would walk from the current address to the new one with the students. It would take a whole day. I thought it was a brilliant idea; thus I encouraged my daughter to join them. I asked her if she was interested in doing something cool and she was itching to have a try.
We prepared a schedule and took a 13-kilometer walk from home to MSA. Not long after we took off, we bickered about the route, and I only allowed her to be entirely in charge of the journey that day. Since that was the only thing we did that day, it wouldn’t hurt to take the wrong direction, and we take another route then. Sometimes we walked side by side, sometimes one after the other, barely talking. We just focused on walking and chatted a little when we took a break. I never found out what my daughter was thinking along the way. As for me, most of the time I was trying to think through which step mattered most in leading me to MSA? I thought I found the answer: the most critical step was the one I was taking.
It took us almost four hours to walk to MSA including the resting time. The teachers might go out for lunch when we got there. We felt very thirsty and looked around for water, but we only found an empty barrel. At the moment, Jason walked in. My daughter said to him proudly,
“We walked here from home.”
If you were a teacher, what would you say to that? In the case of Jason, he replied while helping me changing the water,
“What made you decided to walk to school?”
“I was bored.”
There went the second question to teachers, what would you say to this? Jason said unhurriedly,
“Cool. All great ideas come out when you are bored.”
Then he went to greet the visitors, and we went for lunch. During the lunchtime, my daughter said that Jason’s response was extraordinary. She was inspired.
As a parent of a teenager, I often make a lot of thankless effort in inspiring her. However, this young teacher did it effortlessly, which makes me wonder how he did it and how I could learn from him. Finally, I figure out that the reason he’s able to do a great job is that he is an inspiration. He gives out light himself, and it’s natural for him to inspire other people. He even forgets what he says. Therefore, if we want to learn from him and encourage the youths, all we need to do is being an inspiration ourselves.
In MSA, being educated can happen in the classroom or some inadvertent conversation. Everyone is constructing a learning scene, thus permitting education to be arriving all the time at any place, which leaves a broader and more profound impression on me with the curriculum going on. Not one person or several persons, but a group of persons are making it happen! It would be hard not to be empowered in such an environment.
Since being admitted to MSA, my daughter has always been looking forward to doing something. She said that she liked everyone in MSA and already had a new home at an amazingly fast speed. I always tell her that she should be prepared to overcome specific difficulties as a member of the founding class is trying out new methods and new curricula. Now when I think back the time I applied to MSA, I found out that she and I both had a strong will.
“Why do you go to MSA?” Her answer was clear-cut, “Because it will have an impact on me throughout my life.”
At this point, she has been through a beautiful opening ceremony and a cheerful school camp. Now she’s experiencing excitement and joy, disappointment and frustration. The teachers are helping her adapt to the new environment in all respects.
I try to find a word to describe MSA with all the teachers, students, parents, and the different scenes, and that word will be lively.
As a mother, I’ve “entrusted” my daughter to MSA, and all I need to do is to focus on giving out light myself. An everlasting topic between my daughter and me is what we can contribute to MSA. No matter the result is, we think we are already the champions because we’ve obtained the most valuable experience attending MSA.
That is the whole story. If you still want to ask me why I was so sure at the very beginning? Let me tell you something funny.
One day when I talked to Zale through WeChat, I turned my head and saw the Danxiang calendar on the table. Suddenly I thought I found my answer:
To love blindly is advisable.
Beautiful things have fault; indiscriminate forgive him.
— Oscar Wilde
It’s not a joke in fact. It’s true. We met each other in MSA for something beautiful. And it turns out we are the beauty ourselves.