Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Confucian education ideals, RIP

By Herbert Hanreich

Pure textbook teaching, which seems to be the prevailing teaching method in this nation, was inherited from the distant past, but is a perfect study-killer. It focuses on memorization, but not on the process of generating new content. The textbook situation can be put into a modified syllogism with two premises and two conclusions: Most students hate textbooks. However, most students must study according to textbooks. Therefore, most students do not like what and how they study and, therefore, most students will find what they study irrelevant. Education in this situation is more of a farce than an intellectual enterprise.

Fourth, recently established teacher evaluation mechanisms at universities, which include input from students, put teachers under pressure. This often means that keeping students happy, instead of challenging them, has become teachers’ main educational priority. What they expect from the students in turn is to likewise “please” teachers by “rewarding” them with high grades — a despicable game too often played in Taiwan. In the animal kingdom such an attitude is called reciprocal altruism; in human democracies it is called corruption. University policies try to elicit “excellent” teachers, but all they do is provide an environment that encourages corruption.

Fifth, local businesses and administrations are creating jobs that make few intellectual demands, but nevertheless require a university diploma. Therefore, an increasing number of young people who are unsuited for academic tasks are forced into colleges and universities. There seems to be infinite trust in a piece of paper with an official stamp, but not in the students.

Many of the students who perform poorly in academic circles would probably be much more successful in the acquisition of practical skills for jobs for which common sense is far more useful than the academic virtues of abstract and critical thinking. Does Taiwan not have enough good vocational schools which offer sound educational programs and enhance practical skills?

The nation’s education system is in a poor state, despite contrary claims. It is so because local education ideals are either based on traditional, backward looking cultural traits or they have been infiltrated by business interests, which are gradually killing ideals here and around the world.

There is little reason to celebrate Teachers’ Day; maybe it should commemorate that there once was a great ideal called education that now rests in peace.

Herbert Hanreich is an assistant professor at I-Shou University in Greater Kaohsiung.

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