Older Twin Goes to Tsinghua University, Younger Twin Comes to Westlake

24, 2022

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K12, as an educational term, is well known in China with the rise and fall of the education and training industry. It refers to the basic education stage of a person from elementary school to high school. But how can one word sum up twelve years of education? As one of the first undergraduates of Westlake University, Ren used the word "free-range" to sum up his 12 years. No demands, no expectations, take your own responsibility. These were the "guidelines" Ren received from his parents for a long time. In the summer of 2022, Ren and his twin brother ended their 12 years of “free-range” education together, each taking separate paths for high learning. One came to Westlake University and the other went to Tsinghua University. Ren’s parents teach in a high school in Huzhou. His father is a physics teacher and his mother is a history teacher. However, the parents never participated in the study of these two brothers – very shocking indeed.

It was the same when it came to applying for a university, the parents did not participate in the decision-making. They only said that the boys’ choice would be respected. Ren only attended the cram school for the first time in junior high school. Because all the classmates around him signed up, he also signed up for mathematics. Under the "double reduction" policy in the past two years, that extracurricular training school has since been transformed into a swimming pool. There is a park in front of Ren’s house, which was the first stop for him to explore the world when he was a student. He spends a lot of time at home reading books with his brother. The atmosphere at home is more "democratic", and the parents are not authoritative.

"Learning has become one's own thing, not someone else's request," Ren said. There are a lot of books at home, you can read them yourself, and no one asks you to read any books. In this atmosphere, the brothers developed the habit of independent thinking and learning.

The brothers could have slept in separate rooms, but they didn't want to, so they shared two beds and two desks in a large room, and held a bedtime talk at night to discuss various issues.

Whimsical ideas are always spinning in Ren’s mind. Where did the universe come from? Why do many questions end up with constants? He would always question his high school teacher, until one day his teacher said, "don't worry about this!"

Obviously, high schooling cannot explain everything, and in fact, our current scientific system cannot explain everything either. It's like Bob Dylan's Blowing in the Wind: “How many times does a man have to look up before he can see the sky.”

Ren began to look for books to read by himself, wanting to answer the questions in his heart. “I read Hawking's A Brief History of Time, I did not fully understand it, because it is a popular science work, I feel that more mathematical proofs are needed.” Ren is always thinking about some “ultimate questions".

When asked if he thought Newton's theory was out of date, Ren said with a serious face: "In that era, he broke the inertia of thinking that humans took for granted, and used complete mathematical methods to study the world."

When Yigong Shi, the president of Westlake University, gave a speech at Huzhou Middle School, he asked the high school students present whether they still had their initial interest in scientific research. "I asked myself this question, and I think the answer is yes," Ren Lei said.

In his first month of university, one of the assignments in physics class was to prove Archimedes' law of buoyancy with one’s own method. Ren immediately felt the difference between university homework and high school homework. Universities require you to do it in a week, while high school tasks are modelled. Ren’s academic tutor is Professor Hongyu Chen, the dean of the Delta College of Westlake University.

Chen directs his students to ask themselves a question every day. Students sometimes ask questions that go beyond the professor's field of knowledge. Chen says that while he cannot answer all question at once, they can check the literature together and discuss it.

One of Ren’s recent questions is how the current in the gas is formed when the gas is broken down under a strong voltage. The question came from his childhood staring at fluorescent lamps.

"I may not find the answer all at once, but I see the possibility of an explanation," he said.