Reading the 36 Stratagems

Last year, a student gave me a scroll of the 36 Stratagems as a thank-you-but-I’m-sorry-you’re-leaving present.  This year, as a way of thanking her, I handed out my own copy of the 36 Stratagems to my  sixth grade students, and we read (and in some cases, acted out!) them as part of our study of medieval China.  It was a good way to spend the end of a Friday of a highly disrupted week, and dig into a primary source.

Today, I got their reflections back on what they read.  Some of them commented on how the tactics advocated would be useful for terrorists.  Many more recognized in the list of ruses, things that they themselves did.  One child noted that when her brother didn’t want to share his candy, she just turned on the TV and found a show he liked. He usually shared once he came over to join her.  Snowball fights made a regular appearance; apparently some of the stratagems came in useful during a battle on the other side of town.

Part of me wonders if it was a good thing to have students read this primary source on tactics, strategy, and deceiving the enemy.  After all, they’ve found immediate use for the material in their daily lives, and not necessarily for the good.  On the other hand, they’re entering the most competitive and cutthroat school-college-and-job market in years, and the economy doesn’t look to be recovering any time soon.

Maybe manuals on strategy, tactics, and ethics SHOULD be required reading.

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