The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 15, 2006


Eighth-grade health class learns Feng Shui

During a presentation to the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) on December 6, Physical Education and Health teacher Margaret Heigl described how, as part of a requirement of a class she is taking with Primary Source, she invited Feng Shui consultant Mary Roberts of North Road to offer a presentation on the Chinese art of Feng Shui to one eighth-grade health class.

The Carlisle School is a member of Primary Source, an educational foundation in Watertown that runs programs and international trips for educators to increase understanding of other cultures. Several Carlisle teachers and administrators have traveled to China through Primary Source.

Interviewed later by phone, Roberts said she thoroughly enjoyed working with the students. She explained the history of Feng Shui to the students, saying it "started in China 3,000 to 4,000 years ago as a way for ancient Chinese masters to give people help" in situating their homes. In ancient times, she explained, homes were "backed by a mountain" to be protected by the wind. This is symbolically continued when rearranging a bedroom, she said, by placing the head of a bed against a wall and not by a window, to support the flow of energy or "qi."

What is Feng Shui?

According to the web site of the International Feng Shui Guild (, where Roberts is listed as a consultant, Feng Shui is "the art and science of harmonizing the person with their environment and heavenly influences. This connection is enhanced by the placement of objects within the house to create the best flow of benevolent qi, the best balance of yin and yang, the most auspicious use of space in accordance with energies present, and by mitigating negative energies and enhancing positive energies." Qi (also called ch'i) is, according to the Guild, "The motivating life-force also called 'Cosmic Breath' .Existing everywhere, it is the term that refers to all forms of energy and its flow. Feng Shui concerns itself with the movement and containment of qi to create the most beneficial support for a person in their environment."

Students' reaction

Heigl explained to the CSC that in preparation for the Feng Shui class, she asked students to draw a diagram of their bedrooms, "detailing where their bed, desk and door were located. After the presentation they were asked to make any changes in their room that would foster the art of Feng Shui." Roberts said the students were skeptical at first. "I looked around and saw a few skeptical faces. I could understand why. Feng Shui deals with what can be seen but it also deals with the unseen."

Heigl, reached by e-mail, confirmed that the students were unsure at first. "Many times students are skeptical as they don't yet have an understanding or an open mind to different beliefs or customs.As time went on Mary did a great job at making students feel comfortable and students exhibited more and more interest."

Based on energy flow

Roberts discussed energy flow, Heigl said, explaining to the students that "energy can't flow in a messy room if it is blocked" and therefore the students "can't get answers to math or science problems." Sudents were instructed to move their beds to "the power spot," which Roberts said is also called the "commanding position."

Roberts later explained that Feng Shui helps maintain a healthy body. Making the room clutter-free, she said, can "affect the systems inside the body," she explained, "and a result can be a healthy weight. I've actually lost weight by removing a large piece of furniture."

Red envelopes

At the end of the lesson, the students presented Roberts with red envelopes they had created. This practice, Robert explained, is called "The Red Envelope Tradition." She added, "It is used to show respect for the knowledge passed along the sacred lineage." She said she puts a coin into each envelope, takes them home, and puts them under her pillow, this way helping students to receive "maximum benefit from the Feng Shui information. That's part of the invisible; very powerful," she added. She donates the coins to House of Hope, a charity in Lowell.

Heigl explained, "Students learned that red signifies luck and therefore is used for happy occasions. It's also the color with the most "Yang" energy. Kept under the pillow during sleep it is thought to promote positiveqi or energy. When a person shares knowledge with another person, they return the favor by honoring this tradition to thank them. Many students are taking Chinese this year and knew some of this information already."

CSC discussion

A brief discussion followed the presentation to the School Committe. CSC member Michael Fitzgerald questioned offering Feng Shui as opposed to other health-related topics. He asked what the students were to learn in the Feng Shui class. It would help the health of the students, Heigl explained, saying the art of Feng Shui would "help them study better."

Reached later, Fitzgerald said, "While I can understand how some people might see a tie between Feng Shui and "wellness," I think it is a stretch. It would appear to be an attempt to incorporate the Chinese foreign language program into other academic areas. I would prefer to see our kids spending more time learning about nutrition and physical fitness in our Health and Wellness program, rather than the most appropriate placement of their bed in their home."

Interior decorating,

or system of belief?

The Mosquito asked Fitzgerald about students learning belief systems, and he replied, "Any philosophy or belief system, if it is to be taught correctly, is best taught to mature students at either the high school or collegiate level, where they can truly understand the beliefs they are being asked to comprehend." He added, "If it is to be taught outside of the core subject area, the lessons should be developed in the context of a greater discussion of varying philosophies and not focused on one particular set of beliefs. That being said, I could see a part of the Chinese program touching on a belief set of the Chinese people, in the appropriate setting of a lesson plan, as we did with the Spanish program and the discussion of the Day of the Dead."

Carlisle Middle School Principal Paul Graseck later affirmed that schools are allowed to teach about different belief systems, but cannot require students to participate in religious rituals. He said, "Most of us would agree that a clean and orderly environment is a good idea. I suppose that is a belief but not a belief system. My impression is that the class was designed to help kids think about the value of such order and cleanliness but not to instill in them a commitment to a structured belief system."

A few days after the CSC presentation Heigl explained, "We had no intention of teaching a belief system." She elaborated, "The forty-minute class was intended to share a playful way to introduce some ideas to potentially help students develop a new way to organize themselves if they so chose. Students could volunteer to change the location of their bed and or desk on their own." She added, "My Primary Source course goal was to introduce students to general wellness-related activities that students could use on their own (if they chose) such as using Yo Yo's, Chinese Jump Rope and morning exercises, while at the same time teaching them about foreign customs/traditions (in this case Chinese.)

Heigl said that the Feng Shui class was "only done with oneeighth-grade class to expose them to an alternative wellness concept and that there are no plans to share it with the other sections."

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito