One of the first stories told in the book of old testament is one about Adam and Eve who , by eating the fruit of knowledge, not only become the first human beings to acquire new information but simultaneously end up performing an act of defiance against the ultimate authority, God himself. The point here is clear, knowledge comes at a price. And yet now-a- days everyone craves knowledge because of the recognition that knowledge is power, especially institutionalized knowledge.
Individuals in all cultures are encouraged to acquire education not only because having good education helps in attainment of good jobs but it also raises the quality of society that we live in. And since most nations operate in a global political and economical ecosystem, having educated citizens has turned into a necessity rather than an option.
The pressure of helping more and more of citizens in one’s country to be educated is there, but not all education systems have yielded similar results. Countries with Confucian-heritage like China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Singapore have produced citizens who are inclined towards cognitive conservatism (preserving existing knowledge structures) and authoritarian moralism. In addition, the education system in these countries have failed to give rise to citizens who are as innovative or creative as citizens from western nations. In order to understand why Confucianism has had a detrimental impact on the education system of Confucian-heritage cultures, Ho and Ho (2008), researchers at University of Hong Kong, carried out a relational and metarelational analysis on the authority relations present in these cultures. The relational analysis refers to looking at the history of parent-child and other similar types relationships and the metarelational analysis refers to looking at the history of relations between relations in Confucian-heritage cultures (i.e., similarities between a father-son and teacher-student relationship).
Psychoanalysis, a product of western thought, is predicated on the idea that one should feel free to associate one’s thoughts without any kind of restriction. Thoughts just by themselves are harmless. It is in the realm of one’s behavior where one ought to be careful about what should be or should not be acted out. Confucianism differs from western way of thinking in that it makes a strong link between thoughts and actions. If an action is bad then even the thought of that action is bad. Therefore, one should learn to control one’s thoughts. This alone presents a hindrance to creative thinking.
The teacher-student relationship in Confucian-heritage cultures is marked by an inhibition of student’s freedom of action and a pervasive use of authority on behalf of the teacher. Teachers are encouraged not to allow students ask provocative questions and good questions are considered to be ones that corroborate the teacher’s dominant status. According to Confucianism, emotions can be a hindrance to the project of meeting educational goals. That is why a good teacher is considered to be one that can maintain control over his/her emotions. A good teacher is also one that is stern to the students and scarce in giving praise for good efforts.
The ideal goal of teacher-student model in Confucianism is to produce students who are humble, respectful, and industrious. But the absolute authority of teachers has ended up producing students filled with repressed anger that is masked by a façade of social harmony. A study done on Chinese students for example revealed that 43.8% of students in Beijing suffered from school phobia and 90% of this phobia was a product of unwarranted punishment doled out by teachers (Chen, 1995).
One of the most infamous cases of improper punishment given by a teacher was reported in 2000 where a 4th grade teacher from a village in Shaanxi province punched and kicked a student to the ground because he failed to submit his homework on time. The teacher then ordered 50 other students from the classroom to give 10 lashes each to the fallen student with a stick. The beating of 9 year old boy lasted over 40 minutes after which he had to be taken to a hospital. While this initiated a national dialogue about the poor treatment of students by teachers in China, the local villagers supported the teacher and were angry at the media for sensationalizing the incident.
There are three dogmas that are inherent to Confucian education philosophy (Ho, Peng, & Chan, 2001):
1. Education allows one to attain correct knowledge, not discover or create it.
2. Written words are superior to an oral discourse.
3. The teacher is the repository of knowledge.
All three of these dogmas socialize each new generation of students to become as cognitively conservative as preceding generations and refrain from challenging the status quo. There are no tools in Confucianism to recognize and provide solutions for power conflicts among student-teacher, politics-scholar, father-son, and the like. Instead, Confucian education philosophy promotes cognitive conservatism that not only maintains existing knowledge structures but inhibits emergence of creative ideas. Without bringing about educational reforms that lessen the degree of power conflicts and allow for student independence and creativity to emerge, Confucian-heritage cultures are bound to face an economic sluggishness in the 21st century.
Chen, Y.H. (1995). December 24. [On “School Phobia”]. Beijing Youth Daily, p.8. (In Chinese. Reprinted in D.P. Yang, Ed., fiaoyu: Women You Hua Yao Shuo [Education: We want to say something about it], pp. 25-32. Chinese Social Sciences Publishing House.)
Ho, D.Y.F., & Ho, R.T.H. (2008). Knowledge is a dangerous thing: Authority relations, ideological conservatism, and creativity in Confucian-heritage cultures. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 38, 67-86.
Ho, D.Y.F., Peng, S., & Chan, S.F. (2001). Authority and learning in Confucian-Heritage Education: A relational methodological analysis. In F. Salili, C.Y. Chiu, & Y.Y. Hong (Eds.), Multiple Competencies and Self-Regulated Learning: Implications for Multicultural Education (pp. 29-47). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.