You get a glimpse of the real purpose of education when you look at the liberal arts curriculum offered here by St John’s College in Annapolis Maryland. Take a moment to follow that link and browse through the curriculum. It is not a history course; although the student is expected to devote herself to studying the intellectual output of what is generally referred to as the West. It is, in fact, an education whose purpose is free their minds of false opinions in order to allow the natural power of the intellect to consider the arguments of the greatest minds regarding the question of the best way of life for men and women to live, what is the naturally right or best way of life.
By considering the arguments that initiated the enquiry and the reasons of those who have opposed that view down through the ages, the student is able to free her mind of the false opinions that cloud her decisions relating to that important question. Because it concerns the naturally right way of life for human beings, the student learns about what is meant by nature, why or how the virtues are natural to man and lead to human happiness. By understanding the difference between virtue and vice, the student begins to understand what is necessary for a happy society.
You see, Horatio, it is all about the truth.
You get a glimpse of what education is not when you consider the number of academics who purport to search for the truth among the clouds and who rejected the opportunity for a liberal arts course at their universities which was to be funded by the Ramsay Centre. It is quite possible that they rejected the proposal out of ignorance. Theoretically, they have never been able to see clearly through their clouded opinions and do not have the intellectual freedom needed to understand what it means.
It is reported that the more than 100 Sydney University academics who signed the letter objecting to the Ramsay course were part of the Arts and Social Science faculties of those campuses. While the academics spoke loosely about academic autonomy, their main objection was actually a product of their own academic dogma: the “Ramsay programme represents, quite simply, European supremacism writ large.” Being unable to frame an argument from first principles, they fall back on their ideological dogma. No wonder they are worried about Ramsay.
If European influence frightens them, the same cannot be said about Chinese influence. Their hypocrisy is writ so large they can’t see past it. Yet, almost every Australian university, for the present example, Sydney, Queensland and Melbourne Universities, offers courses from a Confucius Institute located on campus. Each Confucius Centre is funded by the Chinese Government with Chinese lecturers selected from Chinese universities. The boards that ostensibly run the Institutes include non-teaching academics from the hosting university but the majority consist of Chinese nationals. The only obvious comment that can be made about board supervision and control is that it is impossible for board members to understand the background of decisions unless they speak English all the time. This is what is meant by soft diplomacy.
At the University of Queensland, the Institute offers only Chinese language courses (in competition, one might add, with UQ’s own Institute of Modern Languages), cultural events while arranging study tours of China. A similar programme exists at Sydney University. However at Melbourne Uni, as well Chinese languages and cultural events, the Institute offers Cross-Cultural training, Strategy, Human Resources, Marketing, Management, Legal and Financial issues and Market research focus groups, most, if not all of which are taught by the University’s own departments. We must marvel at the success of soft diplomacy.
But the Confucius Institute has one other purpose. It appears to be a conduit through which the Chinese Embassy communicates the Chinese government’s displeasure to the relevant University. When a university is about to host a function that is critical of the Chinese government or of a Chinese government policy or one that supports a group that is being oppressed by the Chinese government, the Chinese Embassy communicates its displeasure through the Confucius Institute to the university administration and, behold, the admin stops the function. According to The Weekend Australian that was the conduit used by the Chinese government to convince Victoria University to prevent the showing of a movie sympathetic to the Falun Gong faith.
So, where were all those protesting academics, more than a hundred we are told, who objected to the Ramsay Centre funding a course? Why didn’t they write a letter to Sydney Uni Vice Chancellor and publish it in every daily newspaper, demanding that the Confucius Institutes be closed because of their threat to academic freedom (read freedom of belief).
I venture to suggest that clouded minds have fallen in love with the noise and glitter of the drums, dragons and fireworks, which is no more than the vanity fair of Chinese culture. In that intoxicated state, the tanks in Tiananmen Square disappears into history and the existential danger that the Chinese government poses for liberal democracy is laughed away with platitudes about academic autonomy. That crass letter merely confirms the crisis of the West and where the cause lies.
I wonder if the ‘more than 100’ academics who signed that letter of objection, even noticed if anyone from the Confucius Institute also signed it?
David Long is a retired solicitor, economist and PhD candidate at Griffith University, School of Law.
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