The Master said, “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?”
That’s the first line of Confucius’ Analects, a text which was quoted in a news segment I saw on a friend’s website which depicted South Korea as a nation packed to the brim with the most virtuous and studious Asians you could ever imagine. There was a little about the total domination of the antiquated lecture-copy rote-learning mentality, which has turned this place into a nation of materialist scriveners, conformists, and copycats. The unspoken question asked by the video is, as always—why can’t we be more like them?
Confucius may have had a far larger influence in Korea than anywhere else—I wonder also what the original Chinese says in what I’ve quoted here, and how it was translated into Korean. Does the verb learn mean to study and copy relentlessly beyond any reasonable level of human endurance, and then forget all that you have studied the instant you have finished taking your exams? Does it mean that you should ignore the lessons of the world around you and focus relentlessly on academic textbooks until you’ve finished college, whereupon this learning is finished? In South Korea, the answer is a fervent head-bowing yes!—but I wonder, I really wonder, if Confucius meant it that way. The line is, after all, a question, and we have a right to answer it as we please, rather than blindly agree with whatever our good Master Kong says.
The aghast obsequiousness of that video does a good job of taking part in that favored American tradition of degrading our school system in favor of various Asian education factories and assembly plants, which every year produces millions of very capable test takers who have sacrificed all their creativity to gleefully take their place as cogs in the cliche machine, but I think we need to listen to Confucius and define the first words of his infamous Analects in a more creative and progressive way instead.