Monday, August 26, 2013

Joy in the Pursuit of Learning

Writing in the Peace Weekly, a permanent member of the Bishops Pastoral Research Committee, with a doctorate in theology, reflects on the educational system in Korea. She received an e-mail recently from a teacher who would like help  in encouraging students to petition the government to stop the proposed changes to the college curriculum and to spread the word to as many people as possible.

The education ministry is changing and merging many of the subjects currently offered by the university curriculum, many of them from the humanities curriculum. She doesn't care for the criterion that the education ministry uses to determine the support they give to the colleges. At present, the percentage of those who graduate and find jobs and the number of students that they enroll are used to determine the amount of support given. The students know there are deceptions and expedients being used to the students' disadvantage. They want the humanities and the art schools to be exempted from these standards.

The professor introduces us to the thinking of Zhu Xi, a Neo-Confucian who lived a millennium ago. In his writings, he said at the age of eight, children should be taught moderation, etiquette, music, archery, elementary mathematics, and how to use words and phrases from the classics. At 15, students should study the laws of nature, possess a right ordered heart, be taught moral and mental cultivation, learn to govern themselves and prepare for citizenship.

She would like to know what precisely are the goals of our educational system. The subjects that help build character have been pushed aside, and the subjects that prepare one to enter a capitalistic society are considered more important, which tends to foster competition. Our schools are becoming, she says, like military schools with one overriding aim: to win in the competition for the best jobs.

These problems are not recent, she maintains; they have been with us for quite awhile. Chronic desire for growth and trying to adapt to the requirements of the capitalistic society have required many policy changes, and we have seen the negative effects on society, she says.

In the Catholic tradition of the middle ages in Europe, education in the moral values was considered important. The religious orders often served to provide that education, and they also brought in free education. After the Renaissance, one of the leaders in providing education to the general public was the Jesuit order.

She introduces us to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who intends to bring together students from schools around the world to promote understanding and solidarity, and calls his project the "World School Network for the Encounter." It will be an effort to prepare the young to be citizens of the world and to live at peace with others and in solidarity with the poor.

The professor wonders whether we in Korea are prepared to show our curriculum to the rest of the world. We do not yet know what should be mandatory and what should be elective, she says. And the thinking on possible changes to the college entrance exams is confused.

Students do not know the joy of study, only stress with little hope of succeeding in a competitive environment. She is waiting for the day when, during summer vacation, you will see students taking a novel along with them, and when leaves turn color in the Autumn and begin their leisurely fall to the earth, you will see students opening a book of poetry.

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