Untamed Minds While everyone is quick to see the importance of knowledge, few understand that genuine learning requires courage. Copernicus was excommunicated simply because he had a different world view, and history is full of cases like his. It is difficult to estimate how many of us are refusing to learn for fear of change, for fear of transforming oneself, for fear to know that the world may operate in ways that are very different from the home version. Hong Kong is a relatively open society, officially speaking. Yet seldom are societies being plagued by so many taboos as ours is. This may have to do with the fact that we have always been located in the intersection of two opposing economic and ideological systems; we are just as worried when we examine the Left as we examine the Right. Still, this particular situation, if handled properly, can be a unique learning experience that is not available in other parts of the world.
On top of this, we have a host of taboos that has prevented us from questioning many important issues in life ranging from eastern & western values, to alternative ways of life, to views on death. What is left to think and talk about except for the nonsense that looms at large in the popular media? How can we expect our students to be creative and to have visions? A well-respected Hindu sage Krishnamurti has remarked that the greatest obstacle to learning is fear. He may well be right. This will constitute another criterion with which we choose materials to engage students: materials that challenge common values, assumptions, and our customary ways of looking at things.
Things As They Are
One chief mission of education is to package and present reality as we know it to students, hoping that they will learn and develop their own adaptations as they grow up. In doing so, educators run the risk of distorting reality. They may over-simplify it and the result is that students cannot develop tolerance of ambiguity, something essential for further academic work and mature thinking. They may over-package it and we get ‘edutainment’, a part of the general trend to ‘teaching down’. Also, if the learning process becomes too strenuous and tedious, students will develop an aversion to learning.
It is not easy to arrive at a close approximation of reality because reality is itself elusive, not to mention its changing nature. A way to develop teaching materials that are faithful to the reality they represent is to look to the classics, something that has stood the test of time, whether it is depicting humanity, nature, or even as an important literary form. It may also be good to be as faithful to the originals as possible, out of a respect for the authors and as a way of preserving important thought. Finally, one may want to use materials that are commonly acknowledged as significant works in their respective circles. This is the third criterion according to which materials will be selected.
One World We are not talking about globalization here. John Polkinghorne, a world-renowned physicist and Anglican priest, once remarked that one important characteristic of our universe is the interrelatedness of everything in it; that one thing seems to be linked―in an intricate manner―to everything else in the universe. This may sound trivial on the surface, but what is being implied is that apparently unrelated spheres may in fact influence each other. Some of these relationships are today brought to our awareness because of more advanced scientific understanding. For example, we now know that our minds can influence our bodies as much as our bodies can influence our minds. We also know that economic systems and business practices would influence ecology, and that, in turn, influences our health as well as the lives of other creatures on whom our survival very much depends. The list of examples can go on.
We feel that many of the problems that we are facing now in Hong Kong are in part based on the inadequate awareness of a world the many aspects of which are intricately linked. We believe that any worthy education system should heighten students’ awareness of the world around us, the interrelatedness of its parts, their powers and tendencies, beyond their immediate concerns. They need to develop an integrated form of knowing that can link up different strains of knowledge that are seemingly, but only seemingly, unrelated. We must stop producing Marcuse’s ‘one dimensional man’. This constitutes our last criterion for selection of texts and teaching materials.
* * * LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION FOR ALL If the reader sees the above as aiming at our senior secondary students, he is, of course, not mistaken. Having experimented for some time, however, we now see that the whole scheme suits mature learners of other ranks just as well. For one thing, Liberal Arts training is not, indeed has never been, a success story in our post-secondary institutions. We have university students who came to request for such training; we also have evening groups specially catered for people who work during the day.
It is because of that experience that we have extended our Liberal Arts programme to the Adult-Learning area. We certainly hope that our scheme could benefit our university students as well as other members of the public who wish to broaden their horizons, to enjoy a wider spectrum of knowledge, to learn.
MEA welcomes enquiries from anyone interested.
We will announce, from time to time, our activities past and present, in the hope that more may come to join the cultural scene. Some selected articles are also posted on the web for all to read. (Please click into the NEWS and ARTICLES columns)
Cathay Through the Looking GlassBlond hair (as a result of hair dyeing) and blue eyes (or green, or brown, depending on the colours of the contact lenses) are vogues that might suggest a mentality among our young that raise more questions than their consuming love for ‘Hello Kitty’ or multiple piercing. Are these signs of denial of who we really are, or, are these mere passing fads that accompany a globalizing world? Whatever the case, post-colonial Hong Kong has many issues to tackle, and foremost on the list could be “who we are”- given that our role as East-West intermediary is fading and, along with it, our mystique. Is there something here, on this small island, that the rest of China will look up to? Are we a people the West will seek despite China, and for our own sake? Or, are we only a poorly defined, faint copy of the originals, which can be glossed over without actual loss?
These are important but highly elusive questions with both sociological as well as economic ramifications. May be it is time that educators stop telling young people who they are, what they are good at, and what they should strive for, but instead, set our goals to raise their self-awareness by exposing issues that shed light on the historical, social, and psychological bases of the organic Chinese whole. In one of our selections, Jonathan Spence presents China through personal encounters that spanned from the 12th century up to the 20th. In another, written by a local scholar Michael Bond, the “Chinese Personality” is seen through a series of psychological studies. Yet in another, by Louise Levathes, the ancient technological power of China is analyzed in relation to her neigbouring states. These are excellent materials that would serve to bring to the foreground the issue of cultural identity, an important element that constitutes the zeitgeist of the post modern world, and one wonders whether anyone can be and should be left out. No one will know where this little “Pearl of the Orient” will end up in this great ever-transforming historical mosaic of the “Cathay”. But one thing is certain: it seems history is willing to listen to our calls again - however meagre our little voice is, in preference to those who want to tell us whom we should be - be they near or far.
Reading List Jonathan Spence, ‘The Catholic Century’, from The Chan’s Great Continent (Norton, 1998).
Erwin Wickert, ‘The Chinese & the Sense of Shame’, from The Middle Kingdom (Harvill, 1981).
Michael H. Bond, ‘Chinese Organizational Life’, from Beyond the Chinese Face (Oxford, 1991).
Michael H. Bond, ‘How Chinese Think’, from Beyond the Chinese Face (Oxford, 1991).
Louise Levathes, ‘Confucians and Curiosities’, from When China Ruled the Seas (Oxford, 1994).
Simon Leys, ‘Fire Under the Ice: Lu Xun’, from The Burning Forest (Henry Holt, 1987).
Benjamin Schwartz, ‘The Setting’, from In Search of Wealth & Power (Belknap, 1983).
S. U. Teng, ‘The Attitude of the Ch’ing Court...,’ from China’s Response to the West (Harvard, 1954).
Laurence Yep, ‘Chinese School’, from Child of the Owl (Harper & Row, 1988).
Mark Salzman, ‘Lessons’, from Iron and Silk (Vintage, 1986).
Pearl Buck, ‘The Old Demon’, from Dragon Seed (Moyer Bell Ltd., 1992).
The Wonders of Classics What is worth noting about the 20th century in relation to the previous ones is perhaps the pace of societal change brought about by democratic movements and major advances in science and technology. To be alive these days is susceptible to the illusion that we alone are at the epitome of human civilization, that thoughts and concerns of the people of the past is irrelevant to our world today and would only pass as leisure reading and nothing more.
But in our concert halls, Bach and Beethoven are still being played. Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave finds its way into the futuristic film that became a hit, The Matrix. In a corner in the silicon valley, a group of yuppies practises Zen meditation. What exactly is the relation between our past and our future? William James has once commented that how far we can see in the future depends on how deep we can look back into the past. In fact, many great names that have captured people’s attention for centuries are still the cornerstones of today’s academic debates: witness that between Aristotle and Nietzsche.
And what is the best fountain for the explorer if not the pieces of classical work themselves? The classics are a rich deposit of human wisdom and virtue whose validity can withstand the test of time. They are, in a way, inscriptions of the best minds and characters that history has ever produced, and perhaps the inscription of humanity itself. These inscriptions defy the defacement of temporal and spatial changes because it is how, and it is why, they were crafted.
Reading List Plato, ‘The Allegory of the Cave’, from The Republic (various editions).
Aristotle, ‘Youth and Old Age’, from The Rhetoric (various editions).
Chuang Tsu, ‘Cutting Up an Ox’, from Chuang Tsu , translated by Thomas Merton (Penguin).
J. S. Mill, ‘Tyranny of the Majority,’ from On Liberty (various editions).
F. Nietzsche, ‘Happiness Is Having Power’, from Beyond Good and Evil (various editions).
Aristotle, ‘Happiness Is Living Virtuously’, from Nicomachean Ethics (various editions).
I. Kant, ‘The Categorical Imperative’, from Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (various editions).
G. Berkeley, ‘Colours’, from Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (various editions).
D. Hume, ‘Of the Origin of Ideas’, from Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (various editions).
How Do We Know? The ubiquity of philosophy as a discipline in universities is a testimony of its value. Since ancient Greece, philosophy has always been a subject which invites serious examination and reflection. Its popularity does not succumb with time because it asks questions that are central to us as moral and rational beings.
This series of readings consists of writings dated from as far as several centuries ago by historical figures of social reform to modern-day philosophers. Issues that are dealt with are wide ranging: from women’s rights movement to animal rights, as exemplified by the works of Wollstonecraft and Singer, and from the meaning and significance of philosophy to the purpose of life, as exemplified by the pieces by Russell and Gaarder. While the problems that are being investigated seem abstract and of no practical significance, further understanding of these problems will reveal to us that they in fact constitute the mighty but hidden undercurrent that shapes our daily lives. As a passing note: philosophy will become more and more important as our power to shape the world around us increases. The ultimate question for the modern human being may be of this form: If I can have anything I want, what is it that I want? Doesn’t this sound familiar? It is the old wish-granting paradigm about which many wise tales have been told.
Reading List Bertrand Russell, ‘The Value of Philosophy’, from The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford, 1912).
Jostein Gaarder, Introductory Chapter, from Sophie’s World (Phoenix Books, 1996).
Rosalind Hursthouse, ‘Neo-Aristotelianism’, from Beginning Lives (Blackwell, 1987).
Thomas Paine, excerpt from Rights of Man (various editions).
Peter Singer, ‘All Animals Are Equal’, from Philosophical Exchange, Vol. I, No. 5.
Ron Karpati, ‘I Am the Enemy’, from Newsweek (1989).
Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, from Vindications of the Rights of Woman (various editions).
Charles Darwin, ‘An Evolved Animal’, from The Descent of Man (various editions).
Susanne L. Langer, ‘Language and Thought’, from Fortune (Jan., 1944).
Clive Bell, ‘Significant Form’, from Art (OUP, 1987).
Popkin & Stroll, eds., ‘Descartes’ Theory of Knowledge’, from Philosophy Made Simple (Doubleday, 1993).
Philip Wheelwright, ‘The Meaning of Ethics’, from A Critical Introduction To Ethics (Odyssey Press, 1959).
Douglas R. Hofstadter, ‘The TURING Test’, from Scientific American (1980).
Social Awakenings As members of society, and especially when we are young, we do not have much of a choice as to what to take in from the socio-cultural environment around us. Like a fish, we breathe in whatever is in the water, be it a chemical, oxygen, or bacteria. Is the impact of the environment indeed ubiquitous and ultimate?
We know we cannot reengineer our environment, at least not in a free society; neither will the movement of a fish change the tides. But what is miraculous is that a fish can swim against tidal waves; that individuals indeed have a choice against all odds, if they so dare. This collection of writings aims to awaken the individual in the tidal wave of our socio-cultural environment to the possibility of other directions, and to reaffirm the power of individual choice in life.
To awaken an individual is to make him ‘see’ what is happening in this world. One good way to see is through the looking-glass (i.e. experience) of others who can enlighten us. Orwell’s boarding-school nightmare to Iwashita’s reasons for quitting his job -- these may cover a wide range of eye-opening episodes for a young person to ‘see’.
Reading List Barbara Brant, ‘Less is More:...’, from the UTNE Reader (July-August, 1991).
T. Iwashita, ‘Why I Quit the Company’, from The New Internationalist (May, 1992).
Pete Hamill, ‘Crack and the Box’, from Snow in August (Little, Brown, 1997).
Jay Walljasper, ‘The Speed Trap’, from the UTNE Reader (March-April, 1997).
Margaret Atwood, ‘Pornography’, from Chatelaine (1988).
Philip Yancey, ‘The Peculiar Advantages of Poverty’, from FindingGod in Unexpected Places (Vine Books, 1997).
George Orwell, ‘An Episode of Bed-wetting’, from Such, Such Were the Joys (Harcourt, 1980).
Lewis Thomas, ‘How to the Fix the Premedical Curriculum’, from The Medusa and the Snail (Viking-Penguin, 1978).
Krishnamurti, ‘For the Young’, from The Krishnamurti Reader (Penguin-Arkana, 1990).
Sharon Whitley, ‘She Didn't Give Up On Me’, from Woman's World Magazine (1994).
Frank O'Connor, ‘Pity’, from Stories of Frank O' Connor (A. D. Peters, 1952).
David Naster, ‘True Height’, from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul (Health Communications, 1998).
Michael Ryan, ‘They Call Him a Miracle Worker’, from Bar-b-que your Boss: and 45 other ways…(Putnam, 1982).
Irene Chua, ‘Parents Are People’, from My Daughter, My Friend (Pan Pacific Pub'ns, 1996).
Irene Chua, ‘Be True to Yourself’, from My Daughter, My Friend (Pan Pacific Pub'ns, 1996).
‘On Reading and Thinking Critically’, from The Millennium Reader (Prentice-Hall, 1997).
Mike Rose, ‘Lives on the Boundary’, from Lives on the Boundary: Struggles and Achievements of America's Underprepared (Free Press, 1989). John L. Philips, ‘Uncle Jim's Wink at Life’, from Readers' Digest (Dec., 1993).
Earl Ubell, ‘How to Think Clearly’, from How to Save Your Life (Harcourt, 1973).
Walton Macken, ‘The Lion’, from Stories for Pleasure (Arnold-Wheaton, 1987).
Erica Goode, ‘Guide to Children Who Kill’, from The New York Times (Jan. 16, 1999).
Jack Cope, ‘Power’, from Stories for Pleasure (Arnold-Wheaton, 1987).
Mike Royko, ‘The Virtue of Prurience’, from Chicago Daily News (Sept. 16, 1989).
Fritz Peters, ‘Boyhood with Gurdjieff’, from Boyhood with Gurdjieff
(Barnes & Noble, 1964).
Christy Brown, ‘The Letter "A",’ from My Left Foot (Stein & Day, 1954).
Science and Technology: kisses of the spider woman?As we sit comfortably at home enjoying the coolness of air-conditioning and the speed of our computers, how many of us would project our minds onto the Amazon Forest where trees are disappearing at unprecedented rates, or, onto the polar regions where ice sheets are melting like a snowman in a summer’s day? Scientists are pounding around like lunatics, stirring up concerns over environmental issues. What catches the public’s attention is not the grandeur of their humanitarian ideals, but the warning that the human race will extinguish if our abuse continues.
The positive contributions of science are indeed beyond doubt. Besides technological advantage, science is a resourceful discipline based upon a systematic approach (the approach itself being a good training to the untamed mind). Science has the potential to bring us to new turf and heights, to discover novelties and uncover mysteries that have puzzled the human race since its dawn. The solution to the above dilemma lies in how to use science without abusing it.
Most people do not know what science is, or means; Orwell’s article is an excellent introduction. Diamond’s ‘From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy’ tells us how technology has changed our life from primitive equality to modern inequality, perhaps without return. And the immediate question facing humanity? What is more urgent if not human cloning?
Reading List [Bioethics], ‘Human Cloning - Why Ban it?’, from Biological Sciences Review (2000).
Nancy Gibbs, ‘Cloning: Where Do You Draw the Line?’ from TIME (August, 2001).
Lewis Thomas, ‘The Hazards of Science’, from The Late Night Thoughts on...(Viking-Penguin, 1983).
Esther Dyson, ‘Cyberspace: If You Don’t Love It, Leave it’, from NYT Magazine (July, 1995).
Paul Krugman, ‘Technology’s Wonders’, from USA Today (Dec., 1996).
W. French Anderson, ‘Genetics and Human Malleability’, from The Hastings Centre Report (Jan/Feb., 1990).
George Orwell, ‘What is Science?’, from Collected Essays..., Vol. IV (Harcourt, 1968).
Pamela Weintraub, ‘The Brain - His and Hers’, from Discover Magazine (1981).
Charles H. Townes, ‘Harnessing Light’, from Science, Vol. V, No. 9 (1984).
Jared Diamond, ‘From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy’, from Guns, Germs, and Steel (Norton, 1999).
Richard Tarnas, ‘The Crisis of Modern Science’, from The Passion of the Western Mind (Ballantine, 1991).
Lewis Thomas, ‘Humanities and Science’, from TheLate Night Thoughts on...(Viking Penguin, 1983)
Cynthia Ozick, ‘Science and Letters: God’s Work―and Ours’, from New York Times Book Review (Sept., 1987).
Loren Eiseley, ‘The Winter of Man’, from The Star Thrower (Times Books, 1978).
Lewis Thomas, ‘The Tucson Zoo’, from The Medusa and the Snail (Viking Penguin, 1978).
Howard Gardner, ‘Human Intelligence Isn’t What We Think It Is’, from Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1993).
Stephen Jay Gould, ‘The Median Isn’t the Message’, from Discover Magazine (June, 1985).
Isaac Asimov, ‘The Fun They Had’, from Prose and Poetry (Cambridge, 1996).
J. Hitt et al., ‘Our Machines, Ourselves’, from Harper's Magazine (1997).
Anon. ‘Who Wants to be a Genius’, from The Economist (Jan., 2001).
Anon. ‘Frankenstein Foods’, from The Economist (Feb., 1999).
Anon. ‘Seeds of Discontent’, from The Economist (Feb., 1999).
Oliver Sacks, ‘The Lost Mariner’, from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Summit Books, 1985).
Anon. ‘Silicon Envy’, from The Economist (Feb., 1999).
Robert J. Samuelson, ‘Technology in Reverse’, from Newsweek (1992).
Weaving the Web: exploring human relationships What awaits every one of us down the road of maturity is familial conflicts, sibling rivalry, romantic phantasy and fallacy, and struggles with society as a whole. What happens along side is the extension of their friendship network, which more or less complicates the entire scenario. This set of reading materials is selected in the light of these needs and problems. By exploring the layers and knots of human affiliations, the interaction between the self and others, the push-pull between genders, we hope to better equip our students when they wade through the swamp of social and familial networks.
Human relations map a wide horizon. The simplest one exists between two person; E. B. White’s essay on his hero, William Strunk, is an example. There is something about the fabric of a family as in J. Didion’s ‘On Going Home.’ The fabric of a society is captured in Mark Twain’s story on public opinion. We have also selected articles by distinguished student-writers too, e.g. Tesuch and Wunsch.
Reading List Jeremy Seabrook, ‘Family Values’, from New Statesman & Society (1993).
Bruce Weber, ‘The Unromantic Generation’, from the New York Times Magazine, April 5, 1987.
E. B. White, ‘Aunt Poo’, from One Man’s Meat (Harper, 1942).
Steve Tesuch, ‘Focusing on Friends’, from Across Cultures (Allyn & Bacon, 1996).
[Anon.], ‘A Men’s Club’, from First Impressions (n.d.).
Matt Ridley, ‘The Prisoner’s Dilemma’, from The Origins of Virtue (Penguin, 1997).
Robert Fulghum, ‘Adulthood’, from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul (Health Communications, 1997).
Emma Wunsch, ‘Learning to Fly’, from Across Cultures (Allyn & Bacon, 1996).
Virginia Woolf, ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’, from The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (Harcourt, 1970).
Cynthia Ozick, ‘The Seam of the Snail’, from Metaphor and Memory (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989).
E. B. White, ‘Will Strunk’, from The Points of My Compass (Harper, 1962).
Stephen Jay Gould, ‘The Streak of Streaks’, from Bully from Brontosaurus:... (Norton, 1991).
Virginia Woolf, ‘Ellen Terry’, from The Moment and Other Essays (Harcourt, 1976).
Mark Twain, ‘Corn-pone Opinions’, from Europe and Elsewhere (Harper, 1951).
Leon Bunker, ‘The Most Mature Thing I’ve Ever Seen’, from Chicken Soup for theTeenage Soul (Health Communications, 1997).
E. Kubler-Ross, ‘Stages of Dying’, from Today’s Education (Jan., 1972).
Joan Didion, ‘On Going Home’, from Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968).
Anthony Toyne, ‘The Gifts’, from The Gifts & Other Stories, abridged & simplified (OUP, 1967).
Alan Paton, ‘A Drink In the Passage’, from Debbie Go Home (Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1961).
Denys V. Baker, ‘The Discovery’, from Cornish Short Stories (Penguin, 1976).
Joe Rao, ‘The Promise’, from Readers' Digest (1995).
A. J. Langer, ‘Lessons in Friendship’, from Chicken Soup for The Teenage Soul (Health Communications, 1998).
Sylvia Plath, ‘Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit’, from Wodwo (Faber & Faber, 1967).
Alexandra Harney, ‘Marriage? No, thanks’, from The Financial Times (1993).
Katherine Mansfield, ‘An Ideal Family’, from The Garden Party (Modern Library, 1931).
Sherwood Anderson, ‘Discovery of a Father’, from Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs (Harcourt, Brace, 1942).
S. Leonard Syme, ‘People Need People’, from American Health (1989).
Katherine Mansfield, ‘The Doll's House’, from The Doll's House (Creative Education, 1986).
George Vakelick, ‘The Turtle’, from The University Review (1958).
Dolores Curran, ‘What Good Families Are Doing Right’, from Traits of a Healthy Family (Winston Pr., 1983).
Morley Callaghan, ‘The Cheat's Remorse’, from They Shall Inherit the Earth (Modern Age Books, 1997).
S. R. Sanders, ‘On Being Male’, from The Paradise of Bombs (Beacon, 1993).
Anna Quindlen, ‘On Being Female’, from The New York Times (August, 1988).
Stephen J. Gould, ‘Women's Brains’, from The Panda's Thumb (Norton, 1980).
David Thomas, ‘The Mind of Man’, from Not Guilty: the case in defense of man (Morrow, 1993).
Beyond Chicken Soup: language, literature, and life