Here's something relevent that I stumbled upon while netsurfing;
Doing Well v. Doing Good
An article in the NYT today looks into the question of the purpose of higher education. Is it simply a matter of producing individuals who will go out into the business world and amass large personal fortunes, or should there be more encouragement of giving something back to society? This quote seemed to summarize the issue:
As Adam M. Guren, a new Harvard graduate who will be pursuing his doctorate in economics, put it, “A lot of students have been asking the question: ‘We came to Harvard as freshmen to change the world, and we’re leaving to become investment bankers — why is this?’ ”
Of course the first answer to his question is rather obvious: it's all about the money. People want to get rich, they pursue careers that they believe will bring them lots of material wealth and stuff. Our cultural revolves around the pursuit of wealth, which we so often mistake for the pursuit of happiness. Not much surprising there.
By chance, this story comes just as the president of my college, and a rather large entourage of administrative and development staff, are making a visit to China and Hong Kong and Taiwan. One of the members of the trip stopped by my office the other day, wondering how Confucianism related to Chinese educational systems, especially the idea of a liberal arts college (which is what my school is). I was, naturally, overjoyed by the question because so much of what I understand about Confucian education (and by that term I mean the ideas that come from the Analects and Mencius, not necessarily the institutional practices that emerged later and dominated elite-level Chinese society) is so very similar to the ideals of liberal arts education.
Let me mention two points in this regard.
First, both classical Confucian education and modern American liberal arts pedagogy value exposure to a wide breadth of learning. In Confucius's own time, he emphasized the "six arts" - ritual, music, archery, chariot-riding, calligraphy, and computation. He expected the well educated individual to be familiar with all these areas but to be specialist in none. Something like the old British notion of the well-rounded amateur. Indeed, in googling around, I found an old article by one Rupert Wilkinson in the journal Sociology of Education (Vol. 37, No. 1, Autumn, 1963, pp. 9-26), entitled: "The Gentleman Ideal and the Maintenance of a Political Elite: Two Case Studies: Confucian Education in the Tang, Sung, Ming and Ching Dynasties; and the Late Victorian Public Schools (1870-1914)." Here's the link, for those who can access JSTOR. American liberal arts education is derived from the British ideal, and thus open to the same sorts of comparisons with ancient China. Wilkinson notes that the ideal of the amateur animated education in both Imperial China and Victorian England.
The author also makes the important political point that higher education in both times and places - and I would add in contemporary American elite colleges as well - was (and is) all about producing and grooming a ruling class. What I want to emphasize, for the moment, however, is the educational means to that end: exposure to a broad curriculum of various facets. Confucius captures the notion of the well-rounded amateur well in Analects 9.2:
A villager in Ta Hsiang said: “Great indeed is Confucius! His erudition is truly vast – and still, he’s lived without fame and renown.” When the Master heard this, he said to his disciples: “What shall I be – a charioteer or an archer? I’ll be a charioteer!”
Confucius is making a joke here. He is laughing at the idea that an educated man should be so specialized in one area that he would assume a discrete title. It matters none at all to him what his title should be; indeed, it is absurd to pick only one, so he just randomly assigns himself to be a charioteer. His point, however, is precisely the opposite. A man of truly vast erudition cannot be characterized by a single discipline.
And that is what is "liberal" about a liberal arts education. It is all about exposure to a wide array of ideas and arguments and images. It resists specialization and an overly narrow focus. Its purpose is to broaden one's mind, to familiarize the student with many different facets of human experience and natural phenomenon. A liberal arts education is not a business school; it is the living expression of the full range of human knowledge.
There is a second point of comparison, however. One that speaks more directly to the question of purpose.
It was very much the intention of Confucius that education should produce morally better individuals. He famously rejected the pursuit of profit and he equally famously promoted the ideal of Humanity: the daily conscientious effort to perform proper ethical acts in a way that cultivates the familial and social relationships that define any individual. Education, in short, is all about learning how to do good. Doing well, economically, is a distraction. His hope was that the morally good would then rule, a hope that was regularly dashed by the harsh political realities of his own time.
This sense of education as means of moral perfection is also a part of the American liberal arts traditions. Granted, we do not, these days, talk about quite this way. But I think there is still a fairly powerful, if often unspoken, assumption that liberal arts education at least has the potential to makes its students better people. Poignantly, while looking around for sources for this point, I came upon a letter to the editor of the NYT, written by a former president of my college, Hank Payne, a man I knew and admired. He died just this year. Hank's letter, from 1996, had a title that Confucius would have loved: "Liberal Arts, by Definition, Teach Morality," Here are some his words, which resonate with Confucian sensibilities:
One cannot underestimate the deep moral importance of the intellectual and character virtues instilled when we do our centuries-old job right. Strengthening intellectual virtues -- such as the willingness to explore widely, the ability to test one's ideas against those of others, the capacity to listen thoughtfully, the strength to adduce reasons for assertions -- has a clear relationship to strengthening character virtues like honesty, humility, integrity and independence.
Ultimately, it is about doing good, not doing well.
---------- Post added at 11:19 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:10 PM ----------
Excepting the Catholic Church, which has always been a meritocracy
Hahahahahahahah!!!! Rich! hahahahahahahah!!! Really, thanks for the laugh! (wipes tear)
Catholic church a meritocra... hahahahahahahahahahahha!!! Ho...