Objective: Students will explore the pragmatic aspect of the religious philosophy of Confucius (the well-known 5th-6th century B.C. Chinese philosopher and teacher). They will use the poetic form of calligram to demonstrate an awareness of this philosophy.
Purpose: Confucius’ philosophy (as described in a PBS Bill Moyer’s interview on Confucianism with Houston Smith, Professor of Comparative Religions) is based on the concept of empathy. In this regard it is similar to the Anti-Defamation League’s ideas about overcoming prejudice as stated in their information sheet Definition of Terms. In understanding the role empathy can play in the course of human affairs, students can develop a valuable skill to help them communicate more effectively and get along with others; both necessary ingredients for happy and productive learning and living. As a drama skill, empathy is essential to acting as well as analyzing characters and writing plays.
Presentation: Students will be introduced to Confucius and his philosophy. Simply stated, Confucianism offers a cosmic view of existence that emanates from the family at its center. The key to the philosophy is empathy, but we are warned that to have empathy only for our family creates nepotism; to have empathy only for our community creates provincialism; to empathize only with our own kind creates nationalism; and not until we can have empathy for the entire world, can we create humanism. Beyond humanism, Confucius believed that we could expand our empathy even further to the cosmos and to our existence into the infinite.
Application & Method: The poetic form of calligram will be introduced. A calligram is a poem written or typed in a visual pattern. Students will be instructed to draw five concentric arcs on a sheet of plain paper. The arcs should be drawn in light pencil line, spaced about one inch apart from each other, and labeled (in color marking pens) as follows.
Students are then instructed to use scrap paper to write a phrase that describes the importance of empathy for each area. After reviewing and revising the work, students will pencil in the phrases on each arc line. They will then use color marking pens to ink their phrases (using a specific color for each phrase), after which they will erase the pencil lines. What they will end up with should resemble a rainbow. Students will be told that the rainbow is often used as a symbol for diversity, and that this kind of poetic writing that forms a shape and/or design is called a calligram.
As in any creative process, following the rules is far less important than discovering one’s soul or personal aesthetic. The instructions mentioned above are meant as guidelines. Students are always welcomed to color outside the lines and let their imaginations take the lead.
Evaluation: Students will present and discuss their works in class. These will also be posted in the Library Media Center as part of our Poetry A to Z schoolwide theme.