Thinking about Public Education – China and East Asia versus the United States and Western culture

To understand the Chinese mind, we should start with Confucius (552 – 479 BC), who is arguably the most influential person in Chinese history and by extension the rest of East Asia: Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia—thanks to China being a regional super power for more than two thousand years, while its merchants helped spread Chinese cultural influence and thought to the other East Asian countries they traded with.

An important Confucian influence on Chinese society and the rest of East Asia was his focus on education and scholarship, and it’s no secret that Chinese (and other Asian) students put in more hours in classroom study today than their Western counterparts—even in the United States.

In fact, we can measure the influence of Confucius on Asian-American students in the United States. For instance, in 2012, The Washington Post reported, “Researchers found that (high school) graduation rates vary by race, with 91.8 percent of Asian students, 82 percent of whites, 65.9 percent of Hispanics and 63.5 percent of blacks graduating on time.”

In China, the hallmark of Confucius’ thought was his emphasis on education and study. He disparaged those who had faith in natural understanding or intuition and argued that the only real understanding of a subject comes from long and careful study.

Confucius goal was to create gentlemen who carried themselves with grace, spoke correctly, and demonstrated integrity in all things. He had a strong dislike of the sycophantic “petty men,” whose clever talk and pretentious manner easily won them an audience of easy to fool people.

Confucius political/educational philosophy was also rooted in his belief that a ruler should learn self-discipline, should govern his subjects by his own example, and should treat them with love and concern.

To understand the importance of education in Western culture, we first look at what Plato (about 423 – 346 BC), Socrates (about 469 – 399 BC) and Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) thought.

When Plato talked about the education of the body, he said we had to take Spartan military gymnastics as a model, because it was based on physical exercises and prescribed severe control over all pleasures. Plato also argued for the public character of education and that it had to be given in buildings especially built for that purpose. In these schools, boys and girls should receive the same teaching and that the educational process should start as soon as possible, as young as three-to-six-years old.

Socrates believed that there were different kinds of knowledge, important and trivial. He acknowledges that most of us know many “trivial” things, and he said that the craftsman possesses important knowledge, the practice of his craft, but that this is important only to the craftsman. But Socrates thought that the most important of all knowledge was “how best to live.” He concluded that this was not easily answered, and most people lived in shameful ignorance regarding matters of ethics and morals. Socrates devoted much thought to the concept of belief, through the use of logic.

Aristotle, however, said that the purpose of the state was to educate the people—to make them virtuous. He said, virtue was the life principle of the state. The goal of the state was to educate with a view toward its own institutions (to preserve them)—through the political education of all citizens.

It is also arguable that the Bible probably has a large impact on what many Westerners think about the value of an education, but the focus of the Bible is mostly on fear of the Lord when it comes to learning—a mixed message at best when compared to what Confucius, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle thought.

Proverbs 9:9-10 says, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 John 1:9 – Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.


Watch the video to discover that the agenda of the Common Core State Standards in the United States is similar to the agenda of the Prussian Model of Obedience.

In conclusion, the value of an education is clearly defined by Confucius providing a solid foundation for East Asia, while in the West, the message is murky and confusing at best, because the Bible focuses on fear of the Lord, and that Scripture is profitable for teaching and training the righteous compared to Plato’s focus on harsh Spartan physical training in addition to severe self-control over all pleasures starting at an early age, and Aristotle focused on preserving government through political education of the people—in other words, brainwashing them.

Socrates may have been closer to the way Confucius thought about the value of an education, but not as clearly defined as Confucius.

Out of this muddle of Western thought eventually emerged the 18th century, Prussian Industrial Model of education more aligned with what Aristotle thought, and this system was adopted by most of Western Culture during the industrial revolution, including the United States.

The Prussian system instituted compulsory attendance, specific training for teachers, national testing for all students (used to classify children for potential job training), national curriculum set for each grade and mandatory kindergarten.

The Prussian public education model attempted to instill social obedience in the citizens through indoctrination. Every individual had to become convinced, in the core of his being, that the King was just, his decisions always right, and the need for obedience paramount. There was no room for individual thought or questioning authority that would develop in the United States and other Western countries after World War II.

Maybe the blind obedience that gave power to dictators like Hitler had something to do with that change in Western thought about public education, but today, with the emphasis on the Common Core State Standards and harsh punishment of children and teachers who don’t measure up, the United States may be returning to the harsher Aristotelian, Prussian Model of education to brainwash children so they grow up and give blind obedience to their leaders.

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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12 Responses to Thinking about Public Education – China and East Asia versus the United States and Western culture

  1. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:

    Maybe the blind obedience that gave power to dictators like Hitler had something to do with that change in Western thought about public education, but today, with the emphasis on the Common Core State Standards and harsh punishment of children and teachers who don’t measure up, the United States may be returning to the harsher Aristotelian, Prussian Model of education to brainwash children so they grow up and give blind obedience to their leaders.

    • That’s an alarming thought. But I have so many alarming thoughts these days.

      • My alarming thoughts usually lead to frustration and anger but not always in that order—and I keep reminding myself that one day I won’t have to put up with these idiots because I will be gone. :o)

        Having read too much history, I also know that eventually the idiots and fools will be defeated. A perfect example is the Vietnamese. who were occupied by China for more than a thousand years and they never stopped fighting to be free so they could govern themselves. Soon after they defeated China, the French arrived and they had to defeat them and when they succeeded in driving the French out, the United States marched in with its troops and we were defeated too.

      • I want you to be right. It would be nice to believe we will eventually improve. I have my doubts, but I want to be wrong. Got to hand it to the Vietnamese: they hung on in there against impossible odds. That proves something.

      • As long as someone is willing to stand up to tyranny, even after great loss and pain, history shows that tyranny loses, before the cycle repeats itself. In between, it seems the people always forget and they let it happen again. A vicious repeating cycle.

      • Everything that is happening (or will happen) has happened before, whether or not we remember. Although I frequently pretend if we remembered, we wouldn’t do “it” — whatever “it” is — again. But I think that’s wishful thinking.

        Hitler wanted to be Charlemagne or at least Napoleon. He wasn’t unaware of history. He wanted to rewrite it. Our lack of awareness is not the problem … it is our determination to prove history wrong.

      • And it might be a good thing that Hitler wanted to out do Napoleon by attacking Russia thinking he would succeed where Napoleon failed, but the same thing happened and it broke Germany in World War II. Hitler’s generals had cautioned him against attacking Russia and wanted to cross the channel and invade the UK. Hitler said no.

      • All I mean is — regardless of outcome — knowing history doesn’t stop people from trying to prove they can rewrite it.

      • Some are trying to rewrite history that has already happened. I read a piece by a major writer who said he was approached by a billionaire and asked to rewrite a chapter out of history that would then justify some of the horrible things that have been done be getting rid of some of the facts.

      • Why not? The Tudors rewrote the history of England by hiring Shakespeare. Nothing new under the sun, yada yada yada.

      • True. The victor writes history to make them look great. Only the loser looks like a monster.

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