Confucius and the Classroom

The Chinese philosopher Confucius (K’ug Fu-tzui) believed that to restore the morality and social order of his times, it was necessary to promote education.  His main ideas in that regard can be found in a book called The Great Learning which was a compilation of his teachings gathered by his students.   His views were summarized there as follows:

“The ancients who wished to illustrate the highest virtue throughout the empire first ordered well their own states.  Wishing to order well their own states, they first regulated their families.  Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their own selves.  Wishing to cultivate their own selves, they first rectified their hearts.  Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.  Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge.  Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

Things being investigated, knowledge became complete.  Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were rectified.  Their hearts being rectified, their own selves were cultivated.  Their own selves being cultivated, their families were regulated.  Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed.  Their states being rightly governed, the whole empire was made tranquil and happy.”

Being contacted by a patron as to his state of health, Confucius reported that “He is simply a man who, in his eager pursuit of knowledge, forgets his food; who, in his joy (of its attainment) forgets his sorrow; and does not perceive that old age is coming on.”  He died in 479 BC at the age of 72.  He has lived on however as arguably the most influential philosopher of all times and continues to be venerated in much of Asia and beyond as the iconic teacher.

So what is the relevance of Confucius today and what is the message to be absorbed?  Perhaps it is this, that each piece is an interdependent part of a whole and that the basis of social order is the family and each individual within it.  What happens within the family has ramifications far beyond it.   Not only your actions, but the legacy that you leave behind in the form of your children goes beyond individual self-interest and extends to the society as a whole.    We have all heard about our carbon footprint.  What about our social imprint?

There is much reason for despondency about the state of our community, country and the world and in these matters our responsibility is both circumvented and circumscribed by our power to act.  However, whereas we may not be able to effect the changes we would wish upon the world, we can certainly start with ourselves since if we cannot work on perfecting ourselves how can we possibly justify targeting the imperfections outside of us?

As we approach this culminating period of the school year, there is a focus on education and educational accomplishments.  Throughout ministries of education and schools there is much talk about the love of learning and the importance of lifetime learning.  However, the authentic desire to learn is founded upon an acknowledgement of our own ignorance which in turn is based upon a foundation of fundamental humility in the face of an acknowledged reality so much larger than our own small window into it.    

Ignorance defines its own limitations by denying the existence of what it does not already possess.  Increasingly, we witness tendencies of intolerance of other opinions as we defiantly plant our own flag in the soil and claim the territory as our own.  As each refuses to learn having established for all time their own intellectual boundaries, the possibility for any real education ceases in response to which stagnation can be the only outcome.

Education is beyond school, beyond classrooms, certificates and diplomas.  Education is the process of the assimilation of knowledge and experience in the pursuit of meaning.  It transcends life by defining it.