Lessons from Zhu Xi’s Views on Inquiry and Learning for Contemporary Advanced Humanities Education and Research
We are bearing witness to the rapid rise of a brave new world of education as flashy websites and interactive software replace individual study and classroom lectures. The expansion of college lecture halls has been stretched thin with video lessons and distance learning, and the siren call of massive open online courses (MOOCs) by star Ivy League professors renders the traditional classroom barren in the eyes of savvy students who have the system pegged.
Several questions arise in this context. Can the students of today receive a college education in the full sense? Does learning still have the same quality without close interactions with teachers and classmates in small to medium sized classrooms? Does research hold the same significance today when much of the work is done and so much information supplied by computers? What lessons do Zhu Xi’s teachings on inquiry and learning have for this educational world of e-texts and cyber-lessons? While not a Luddite tract, the present study raises questions and concerns about the goals and conduct of higher education today which, as Heisenberg avers, should not only aim at transmitting knowledge understood in set ways, but also at inculcating new ways of thinking and understanding.
A college education, as Zhu Xi holds for “advanced learning”, is as much about cultivating a thoughtful, responsible person as producing a professional expert. Such education should include cultivating a student’s sensitivity, logic, and judgment, as well as knowledge about humanity, society, and the world. It is often forgotten that such sensitivity, logic, knowledge, and commitment not only make the student more thoughtful and responsible, in short more self-conscious, but also give her additional perspectives and enhance her professional expertise.
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