Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The large lecture hall at the Shantou Jintai Middle School was filled with middle school students. They had been sitting for almost two hours. And they were very restless. Polite but restless--they were small children. As a representative of Wake Forest University and in alphabetical order, I was the last of ten speakers to take the lecturn. I stood up to speak, the final presentation of a long morning. I knew that that I would have to work very hard just to keep their attention for ten more minutes.

I began my presentation by saying in Mandarin, "Wo shr laushr" ( I am a teacher). And the room quietened. No hushed talking in the back of room, no moving around in the chairs. They were so very quiet. You could almost hear a pin drop. Those three words quietened the room. They did not know me, but they knew the role of TEACHER! I did not need fancy powerpoints, no introductory joke, no cute story to catch their interest at the beginning of the speech. I just simply said, almost in passing, that "I am a teacher." That was enough to quieten the entire room filled with tired, restless, middle school students who had been sitting for several hours and were ready to move on. Something happened when they heard the word "TEACHER." What was it?

What is in this Chinese culture that would pay that much attention and respect to the title of teacher? What is in the Chinese cultural world view that mandates when the teacher enters the room, the students must stand in respect. I saw it in Taiwan in the late 1970s while visiting schools in Taipei. The students were sitting at their desks waiting for class to begin. The teacher entered the room after the class has settled. And every single Chinese student stood with head slightly bowed when the teacher entered the room that morning. The students stayed in attention until they were acknowledged. Then they quietly sat down. And the learning began!

So in this spirit, I stand up from my chair with a slightly bowed head this day to honor Mrs. Wilson, my first grade teacher who taught me the love of reading and how to appreciate the smell of books; to Mrs. Davidson, who helped me think about leadership; to Drs. Ralph McLain, Allen Page,and Roger Crook, who took my adolescent mind to a collegiate level; to Dr. Alan Culpepper, who helped me learn to write. To Dr. Jennings Waggoner, who opened the world of higher education to me and reintroduced me to his alma mater, Wake Forest University, and to all teachers everywhere.

And the Master Teacher placed this honor in right perspective: "You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).

Think of that kind of world where students bowed to teachers, teachers washed students feet, and then students washed the feet of one other.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Confucius is Still Alive in China!

Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, claims that even during the "Maoist period, Confucian values and ways of thinking continued to be influential, albeit in some subterranean form, remaining in some measure the common sense of the people" (New York: Penguin Press, 2009, p. 200). Jacques believes that Confucian ways of thinking are currently being revived "and scrutinized for any light that they might throw on the present, and for their ability to offer a moral compass" (200-1). First brought to light in imperial China through the life and teachings of Confucius and his disciples(551-479 BCE), these ancient thoughts appear to be the bedrock assumptions of culture both past and present in China. historical past. Two important continuities--the parental role of the state and the central place of education-- are maintained, regardless of the political structures of dynasty, republic, or communism. The bedrock philosophical assumption of Confucianism is a strong optimistic anthropology, namely that people are basically good (which goes against the grain of a more western, Augustinian view of humankind) and if brought up with proper parental guidance and education, children will have the appropriate responses for a harmonious family and society (199).

And I think that I saw it. Confucius was still speaking even in 2010 in China. At the Shenzhen Foreign Language School in the Guangdong Province, students learned in an atmosphere surrounded by aphoristic sayings of Confucius. Beautiful plaques on the wall said that education really mattered. The one that first caught my attention was the one in the conference hall where we first met the Chinese educators and some of the students. I looked up and saw these words: 'jyau sywe shang jang" translated means "teaching others teaches yourself." Others stated, "The spring wind brings up (educates) all things" (chun feng yu wu) and "Though growing up through mud and dirt, be not polluted" (wu ni bu ran). The spirit of learning has not been stamped out by the fierce cataclysms of political and social change. The opening words of The Analects of Confucius, a collection of brief aphoristic fragments compiled years after the death of Confucius, attest to the importance of study, and the importance of studying abroad, providing inspiration for 21st century China and our own United States of America.

"The Master said, 'To learn and at due times
to repeat what one has learned, is that not
after all a pleasure?
That friends should come from
afar, is this not after all delightful? (The Analects, Book 1.1)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Exporting Our Industries; Importing Their Industry!

I have been to China--to Da Lu (the Big Land), to Jung Gwo (the Middle Kingdom. I traveled around the Five Economic Zones of the Guangdong Province, north of Hong Kong, and was truly spellbound. Riding in the bus across major highways with clever clover loops, traveling down small country roads flanked with green patches of vegetables and tea plants, walking down city sidewalks filled with people rising to work with the strength of the tall buildings in the morning horizon, my thoughts stayed in motion. I visited high schools, huge campuses with residential housing for students and apartments and cafeterias for teachers, as well as smartly-designed classroom space. I have many impressions. And the words are now coming.

The first one to share with you is the imbalance of trade. Yes, I saw the shipping containers at the port filled with exports ready to come to the West. I saw the increased wealth taken from our American cities---the evidence of high priced cars and luxury apartments in the furniture manufacturing district of Foshan. And yes, I compared that vision with the one that I know well in Martinsville Virginia where acres and acres of furniture manufacturing sites remain empty, once-vibrant shopping malls are now parking lots filled with grass, and the people who depended on a good living making furniture at the factory are without hungry and without work. Yes, I thought about all of those inequities as we traveled through the province. And I remembered what T. Friedman said when he spoke on Wake Forest University's campus a few weeks ago, "For China, we are roadkill." The imbalance is obvious. But who can stop that? For those industrial sites, although running at top speed now, will begin to slow when those Chinese workers demand a higher standard of living as they move into the middle class. And the production cycle will move to Vietnam, Indonesia, and other places with a cheaper labor pool. But the inequity between our two countries was more troubling than just empty or full manufacturing sites.

They have our industries and our industry. And we are lagging way behind. Simply stated, while we have been exporting our industrial age to China, we could have been importing their industry, their hard work ethic, their desire to learn, their willingness to work at menial labor for the good of their family, their hunger. That desire that we as Americans used to have has also gone off shore. And that is my lament.

For this is what I saw. I saw Chinese young people in the Guangdong Province, thousands of them, wanting to come to the United States to study. No, they did not want to come to taste the good life, to simply buy a new car and an American house. Those ambitions are being fulfilled in their own hometown because the so-called good life is coming to them. The streets are filled with Mercedes and signs of increasing wealth are everywhere. These young people who came to the information sessions and listened to the presentations are wanting to come to the United States because we still have some of the best universities in the world. And these students want to learn. They want to improve their mind, to increase their understanding of how life works, to gain skills in medicine, business, and some even in the liberal arts. They were hungry to learn. They were motivated to study. They wanted more.

What if we could import that? What if we could in trying to balance the trade between the two countries say we will give you our textile industry if you will give us your industry, your willingness to study extra hours in the evening, to sit through a class and not complain about the reading assignment, to actually understand that learning is hard work and takes great discipline but is essential for the well-being of an individual and certainly for the development of a country.

China, you now have our industries; in return we want your industry! We want our young people to be as hungry to learn as yours are. It is only fair.