The United States can learn a lot from the lifestyle of the Chinese philosopher Confucius that many Asian countries adapt.
I mean, really, how bad can focusing on peace, justice and education really be?
A recent international study showed that four of the top five societies whose students scored highest in math, science and reading practiced Confucianism. Shanghai was at the top of the list, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, respectively. In stark contrast, the United States came in 15th place in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math.
The primary difference is that Confucians not only focus on education, they revere it. Excelling academically has been part of the Asian culture for centuries and its benefits are evident today.
The days of thinking competition only exists regionally or nationally are long gone. In order to be truly competitive in this society, we have to think globally. And realistically, while many American children are afforded a quality education, those teachings pale in comparison to other countries. Unfortunately for American children who don’t have access to exceptional education, their realities are even more dismal.
Perhaps our focus has to change.
I’m certainly a proponent of the arts and extracurricular activities. As a matter of fact, I think these things help children academically and socially. However, there needs to be an even stronger push towards academic excellence. In China, the most popular kids at schools are generally the ones who make the best grades, not the cheerleaders or football players. In addition, teachers in China are highly respected – by both the students and their parents.
This brings me back to the Confucian lifestyle.
One aspect of Confucianism is harmony. People are to treat each other respectfully, resulting in a harmonious existence. Ask a teacher to describe the mood at her school and I’m sure harmony would not be among the initial adjectives.
But in order for students to respect their teachers and even their peers, they must first learn to respect their households; their parents. In the Confucian tradition, there is a term called filial piety, which means that children, even adult ones are to respect and obey their parents and adults in general. Parents are indeed the first teachers of their children. If more parents stressed the importance of youth respecting adults, we would be much further along.
I’ve spoken to countless teachers and administrators who have shared stories with me that detail the tremendous level of disrespect some students exhibit. Whether it’s yelling at teachers, questioning their authority, or even making verbal threats, many adults in our schools have been subjected to treatment that is grossly unacceptable.
Though I’ve really advocated for the Asian tradition of Confucianism in this editorial, I doubt seriously that Americans will actually become Confucionists; however, we can take aspects of their traditions and apply them to our lives, which may result in positive evolutions for our country.
We can certainly treat each other more respectfully. This teaching needs to start at home and should continue with others, even strangers. We also can place a higher value on education. While I believe things have improved, I don’t think that American students are at the point where they think being smart is cool. Parents and adults in general have to continuously stress the importance of making good grades and going above and beyond academically. Our children need to know that the world is constantly advancing and they will have to compete with people from all over the world for jobs. We have to instill an expectation of greatness in our children today so they will know, and really believe that they can (and will) accomplish anything they set their minds to in the future.
You can e-mail comments to Shannon Williams at Shannonw@indyrecorder.com.