Monday, May 31, 2010
Confucius the pedagogue
Confucius was born in the small feudal state of Lu (noted for its preservation of the traditions of ritual and music of the Chou civilization). 1- Confucius' ancestors were probably members of the aristocracy who had become virtual poverty-stricken commoners by the time of his birth. His father died when Confucius was only three years old. Instructed first by his mother, Confucius then distinguished himself as an indefatigable learner in his teens. 2- Confucius had served in minor government posts before he married a woman of similar background when he was 19. It is not known who Confucius' teachers were, but he made a conscientious effort to find the right masters to teach him, among other things, ritual and music. Confucius' mastery of the six arts-ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic- and his familiarity with the classical traditions, notably poetry and history, enabled him to start a brilliant teaching career in his 30s. 3- Confucius is known as the first teacher in China who wanted to make education available to all men and who was instrumental in establishing the art of teaching as a vocation, indeed as a way of life. Before Confucius, aristocratic families had hired tutors to educate their sons in specific arts, and government officials had instructed their subordinates in the necessary techniques, but he was the first person to devote his whole life to learning and teaching for the purpose of transforming and improving society. He believed that all human beings could benefit from self-cultivation. He inaugurated a humanities program for potential leaders, opened the doors of education to all, and defined learning not merely as the acquisition of knowledge but also as character building. 4- For Confucius the primary function of education was to provide the proper way of training noblemen (chün-tzu), a process that involved constant self-improvement and continuous social interaction. Although he emphatically noted that learning was "for the sake of the self" (the end of which was self-knowledge and self-realization), he found public service a natural consequence of true education. In his late 40s and early 50s Confucius served first as a magistrate, then as an assistant minister of public works, and eventually as minister of justice in the state of Lu. It is likely that he accompanied King Lu as his chief minister on one of the diplomatic missions. Confucius' political career was, however, short-lived. His loyalty to the King alienated him from the power holders of the time, the large Chi families, and his moral rectitude did not sit well with the King's inner circle, which enraptured the King with sensuous delight. At 56, when he realized that his superiors were uninterested in his policies, Confucius left the country in an attempt to find another feudal state to which he could render his service. Despite his political frustration he was accompanied by an expanding circle of students during this self-imposed exile of almost 12 years. His reputation as a man of vision and mission spread. Confucius was perceived as the heroic conscience who knew realistically that he might not succeed but, fired by a righteous passion, continuously did the best he could. At the age of 67 he returned home to teach and to preserve his cherished classical traditions by writing and editing. He died in 479 BC at the age of 73. According to the Records of the Historian 72 of his students mastered the "six arts," and those who claimed to be his followers numbered 3,000.