The Foundation of Education
Wang Shouren (1472 – 1529 AD) was a scholar and educator during the Ming Dynasty. Because he used to live in Yangming Cave, he was known as Mr. Yangming, or Wang Yangming.
Wang Yangming wrote an article “Parting words with the Minister of Rites, Qiao Baiyan” based on a conversation he had with Qiao Baiyan (original name Qiao Yu), when the latter visited him before departing to assume the position of Minister of Rites in Nanjing. The article was written as parting words of advice and encouragement for Qiao Yu.
Based on their conversation, Wang Yangming's article expounded the fundamental issues regarding education, pointing out that education must be focused and meticulous; however, if these two aspects deviated from the Dao, both would fail because of addiction or eccentricity. By “Dao,” he referred to the Great Way from which all things were generated and developed. Education must be focused and thorough. If one understands the great way of how all things are generated and developed with a focused and diligent mind, then one would be naturally good at those less important things such as writing and other skills.
The story of chef Baoding dismembering an ox is a typical example to demonstrate this concept. The story tells about a chef who, when dismembering an ox for King Hui of the Wei Kingdom (400 – 319 BC), demonstrated incredible skill. Not only were his movements graceful, but the sounds of dismembering the ox were fully in rhythm with the accompanying music. How could a chef have reached such a level? He gave a rather unique answer, “I’m very interested in pursuing the Dao, much more than skill.” He made it very clear that the reason he was able to do this so skillfully was because he paid much more attention to understanding the “Dao” than acquiring a skill.
From this we can find it quite easy to understand why ancient people required teachers to “disseminate the Dao, to teach knowledge, and to expound and remove confusion.” The Dao here does not mean the general pattern of things, but the great way by which all things in heaven and on earth were generated. The fundamental issue in education is to disseminate the Dao to students. The “Dao” has been interpreted under different perspectives in the classics of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
However, today’s China has experienced one political movement after another after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) usurped power, and China’s true traditional culture has been destroyed, especially after the Cultural Revolution. The CCP has also distorted the traditional culture in order to maintain its rule over China. Meanwhile, due to the influence of empirical science from the West, people nowadays find it hard to understand the exact meaning of what the ancient people tried to convey. The way people try to solve problems has been reduced to simple and rigid ways of thinking, such as “only attending to the superficial or minor aspects rather than tackling the root of a problem,” and their understandings of the universe, the human body, as well as all things on earth, are really naïve and laughable, just like blind men trying to describe an elephant.